Homeless veterans gathered at a Gainesville recreation center Friday morning for the second day of the 12th Annual Alachua County Homeless Veterans Stand Down Event.
The two-day event that was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center aimed to offer homeless veterans with a one-stop shop of helpful services.
Stand Downs are collaborative events organized for homeless veterans that can provide food, clothing, counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The first stand down was organized in 1988.
Many agencies, including FloridaWorks, St. Francis House, and Alachua County Social Services participated in the event and offered their various services to veterans who are struggling with their transition from life on the field to everyday life at home.
As volunteers passed out bags filled with clothing, beanies and other essentials, veterans were able to receive free hair cuts, eat a hot breakfast and meet with service providers.
Donald Ravingfeather, a 12-year Marine Veteran, attended the event.
After an accident while serving, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was discharged. He had no follow up treatment or support from the military.
“I went on a downhill spiral from there, because I’ve always had structure in my life from the military,” he said. “I had no structure after that, and I really didn’t know how to cope with society.”
Ravingfeather attended the event to visit the booths offering various social services, and he received information about food stamps and support programs.
“For me, coming out of prison and all of that, this event is very beneficial for my re-entry and transition into society,” he added.
Mary Jane Deedrick, senior counselor at the Alachua County Veteran Services Office, said the program has been very successful.
“Veterans have the opportunity to meet providers face to face in one location and to receive help,” she said.
Deedrick said a planning committee has already scheduled to meet at the start of 2014 to begin planning the next Homeless Veterans Stand Down event.