Illustration by Rioka Hayama
Homeless and at-risk military veterans were provided a broad spectrum of services by East Bay Stand Down (EBSD), an association of community organizations, from September 13-16 in Pleasanton, California.
This event, which takes place every other year and spans four days, involved volunteers at one site providing an abundance of aid, such as food and clothing, along with medical, dental, psychological, and spiritual guidance. Housing options, employment opportunities, counseling services, veterans benefits, Social Security, and legal advice were also made accessible to about 350 veterans during this year’s 11th EBSD.
The first EBSD was held in 1999, with a mission to provide temporary relief for the homeless and at-risk veterans. In total, approximately five thousand veterans and their families have benefitted from this event.
About 25 volunteers and 30 military personnel assisted with the setup this year, and more than 2,100 volunteers signed up for the event. Although the EBSD team planned the layout of the event months in advance, the encampment ended up having to be completely rearranged due to environmental conditions caused by nearby fires.
Jerry Yahiro, the director of EBSD, thought that the “Homeless Veterans Court” where legal services are provided was probably one of the most important services offered to the veterans who attended, because he believes they could begin the road to recovery after getting their driver’s licenses back. “During the Homeless Veterans Court, participants with outstanding warrants and fines were able to have these adjudicated,” said Yahiro. “For a Veteran that is attempting to get his or her life turned around, these warrants are the last obstacle they need to overcome, especially in getting their driver’s licenses back.”
EBSD Executive Board Member J.R. Wilson also thought that the legal services were a few of the most important resources provided during the event, and additionally stated that another important aspect was that the veterans who attended often feel like they are part of a group once more.
“The sense of community is the most important service provided to them,” Wilson said. “I do believe the most important part of [EBSD] is the veteran connecting to the community again.”
According to Yahiro, the biggest improvement with this year’s EBSD was probably the upgrade in dental services, as volunteers were finally able to provide dentures to veterans who required them. More than forty participants were fitted with new dentures.
Yahiro thinks that the homeless problem in the Bay Area is a problem without an adequate solution, due to the extremely high cost of living and the always-climbing prices of housing. Although he does not have a solution to the overall problem, Yahiro said that the EBSD can treat some of the issues of veterans and hopes that it helps those willing to change their respective situations.
“I know that not everyone that comes to the EBSD will change, but we offer hope and a way out of their present situation,” said Yahiro.
Wilson said that he feels the Bay Area needs to provide real affordable housing for long term residency to really get the veterans off the street. He thinks that temporary housing will never work because veterans tend to have trust issues.
Yahiro said that the goals for future Stand Downs are to continue to provide a way out of the vicious cycle of homelessness and despair that often affects the people who have served and fought for our country. “Many do not just need a handout but a hand up,” said Yahiro. “Have some compassion and not disdain,” he added. EBSD tries to help this by letting the veterans know that they are not alone, and that there are programs and opportunities available that may help with their situations.
However, Yahiro stated that it is up to the individual to choose to take advantage, or not take advantage, of the resources they offer. EBSD is working to impact veterans lives one person at a time.