Stand Down Event Sees Nearly 200 Homeless And Near-Homeless
By Christy Aumer, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Nearly 200 homeless and near-homeless veterans and non-veterans gathered at Veterans Memorial Stadium for the seventh annual Stand Down event, Friday.
Stand Down focuses on helping citizens adjust to community living by providing free access to human service agencies. Around 70 vendors, nearly double the amount from last year, offered free benefits counseling, employment and training assistance, eye exams, suicide prevention and more, from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Classes occurred throughout the day, along with optional haircuts provided by Great Clips.
“Stand down came as a term from the Vietnam War. You would give them a hot shower, fresh clothes and a hot meal,” Linn County Veterans Affair director Don Tyne said. “Now we use it as a term to give homeless fresh clothes, shower and a meal."
Tyne has seen growing interest in Stand Down events over the years, along with an increase in more complicated cases dealing with multiple problems. Specifically, homeless with chronic mental illness and war time injuries, like a loss of a limb.
“I’m hoping to increase the quality of life. Get veterans and citizen’s better housing, jobs, get them into therapy,” Tyne said.
Linn County militia master gunnery sergeant and reverend Alexander Harris, 28, has been active for 13 years. He focuses on disaster recovery, and saw the most activity after the flood of 2008 that struck Eastern Iowa. Harris suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I wish more people had more understanding of people with PTSD,” Harris said. “It’ll wreck your life if you let it. I can’t sleep to this day.”
Elaine Reinholz was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves in Ft. Lewis in Washington during Desert Storm, as a supply clerk and believes events like Stand Down, and other organized events help veterans and non-veterans tremendously -- but to those who know about it.
“How many homeless people have Internet?” Reinholz said. “If you can’t afford a meal, how can you get to a computer?”
“There’s a library at Westdale (mall) with Internet, but some of us only have bikes,” Harris said. “And then we get pulled over if we ride on a major road.”
Tyne acknowledges the frustration, and admits it can be tough to get these events with inadequate or reliable transportation.
“But if they can just get here they’re at an incredible advantage,” Tyne said. “They can come here and at least start the process.”
Former military police officer Deborah Woods praises the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, and relies on them for assistance.
“My kids and I have been homeless twice,” Woods said.
Woods was a lead supervisor at Per-Mar at Cornell College for 19 months before being released for “unknown reasons.” Despite difficulties, her 4-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter are able to attend Washington elementary school in Mt. Vernon.
“I served for 11 years. I don’t know if it’s a military thing, but there’s kind of a pride thing when it comes to asking for help,” Woods said. “But Don came through. He said, ‘we’re here for you.’”
“I have no family here,” Woods said. “The VA is all I have.”
But for some, the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs hasn't pulled through enough.
Special Forces Captain Erick Church, 48, agrees there are resources but his issues reside elsewhere. For years Church has attempted to track down medals he was awarded during his service. The medals serve as a reminder of his dedication and service to protect this country.
“I would like to get my medals,” Church said crying. “I wasn't able to show my father what I achieved in the military. Or my mom.”
“I would just like someone to help me get my medals.”
Stand Down was made possible by Linn County Veteran Affairs, in partnership with the Cedar Rapids Metro Area Veterans Council, the Iowa City VA Medical Center and the Linn County Continuum of Care. Stand Down is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Linn County Board of Supervisors Witwer Trust and by donations.
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