Veteran Robert Johnson Jr., once a homeless Gainesville resident, found hope and a home six years ago through a local event which recently offered current homeless veterans the same and more.
The Homeless Veterans Stand Down and Community Resource Fair, which was held at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Gainesville, is more than a decade old. It provided a variety of resources and services aimed at helping homeless veterans get back on their feet.
Johnson returned to the event for the resources it offers, including a haircut.
Not only did the resource fair provide housing assistance, medical screenings, social services, and free clothes and food, but it also provided services to help homeless veterans look and feel their best. Johnson said that some of the people who attend haven’t been able to shower or get a haircut in a long time.
Johnson said it’s not just about appearances but self-esteem too.
“When you’re well groomed people will look at you differently and you’ll look at yourself differently,” he said.
Marta Martinez-Abreu works at the Salon @ 716 and has been providing free haircuts at this event for over ten years. She said that volunteering her time for the homeless veterans in her community is a no-brainer.
“This is just a little thing I can do to give back to people that have given me something so great,” Martinez-Abreu said.
Johnson said that people are getting so much more than a hot meal at the event. He said it’s great for networking with other homeless veterans about problems they share.
“I got help getting a place to live [at the resource fair] in the past, and now I come around so I can help other people get their act together,” Johnson said.
Kim Smith, director of Alachua County Veteran Services, said that there were fewer veterans in attendance this year than in the past. She sees this as a great achievement because it means the homeless who have come in the past no longer need support from the resource fair.
“This year I see less veterans coming. I think we’re doing our job because people have received the services they need, and we’ve helped them get their feet under them,” Smith said.
Forty-two organizations volunteered their time and talents last year with over 212 attendees. This year there were at least 50 organizations with
approximately 150 homeless veterans in attendance.
Smith summed up the event saying, “Veterans serve our country, and they deserve this.”