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Homeless veterans event sees growth in services, volunteers


By Dana Winter – WUFT-FM

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In its eleventh year, the Alachua County Homeless Veterans Stand Down had a new problem to deal with.

“This year we were scrambling to find enough tables for all our service providers and still have tables for our veterans to sit down for lunch,” said Theresa Lowe, the director of the Gainesville/Alachua County Office on Homelessness.

That problem was symptomatic of an event that grows every year. The annual service was held this year in the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center in Gainesville.

The original Stand Down was modeled after the concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations, according to an Alachua Country release.

Multiple non-profit organizations, as well as state and federal agencies, were on hand to offer services and information for the homeless vets.

It wasn’t just those seeking services who attended. Lowe said with the added interest, they needed help setting up. Some veterans, who previously came to the Stand Down event seeking services, now volunteer to give back to it.

“A lot of veterans from the Honor Center and other veteran housing programs are volunteering this year,” she said.

Although there are many homeless programs in Alachua County, this one is targeted primarialy at veterans. The event usually occurs once a year, but Lowe says her office has identified a potential grant to expand services.

One of the orginizations at the Stand Down, the Department of Children and Families are familiar with events like this. Cheryl Twombly, a Department of Children and Families partner liaison, said they want to help as many veterans as possible.

Twombly says they want the application process for programs such as Medicaid to be as simple and quick as possible. Often, the veterans can fill out the applications they need right at the event.

With information all over the Internet, DCF has made itself as accessible as possible. Twombly says educating the community on how DCF can help them is key.

“We’re out all the time,” she said. “We go to different homeless events, we go to children’s events — basically, making sure the community is aware on how to access our programs.”

WUFT’s Web team edited this story online.

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