A Stand Down refers to a safe place for exhausted combat units to rest and recover away from the battlefield during wartime. Here at home, Stand Downs are also known as community events connecting homeless veterans to services and supplies they don’t have.
WHQR’s Sara Wood went to a recent Stand Down in Onslow County where more than 50 veterans showed up.
At the American Legion in Jacksonville, there’s a sea of volunteers from mental health care providers to dental hygienists and barbers. Showers are provided at the National Guard Armory across the street.
Kelley Hamilton works with veterans for the Onslow Employment Security Commission. She says that trauma from combat follows them home, where many spiral into substance abuse and untreated mental health issues. They struggle to hold jobs so they live off the radar, sometimes for years.
“A lot of them are too proud to go to family or friends and some of them don’t have it and they’d rather sleep on the street or sleep in their cars. That’s what we’re seeing.”
The annual event is open to all those who are homeless or struggling to get by, but its target is veterans. County officials searched every corner of Onslow to spread the word, sending them to isolated camps of displaced veterans like this man known as Bob. He’s an army veteran who’s lived outdoors with his wife Diane for the past four years.
“Here I am today, because I got people [who] especially came out in the woods to look me up. They went out of their way to come in the woods! I mean, that’s something!”
Bob and Diane stock up on clothes and food, and they also catch up with friends from last year. Kelley Hamilton says the event isn’t just a one-day affair. There’s diligent follow-up to help get veterans into permanent housing and jobs.
“So we’re just not having this event and then just like ‘Oh we had this event, it was great!’ and dropping people off, we’re not doing that.”
Hamilton says in military communities there tends to be a higher number of homeless veterans. Last year, Cumberland County had the third highest homeless population in the state, and with Fort Bragg located there, veterans make up 12 percent of the homeless population. In April, a Stand Down is planned for New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties, where 8 percent of the homeless population consists of veterans.