Northern California- Helping Homeless Vets

The Reporter – Vacaville October 21, 2006

Helping Homeless Vets Three-day Stand Down offers a ‘hand up’
By Erin Pursell/Staff Writer

Northern California homeless veterans received a helping hand up Tuesday. A flag raising and Jimmy Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” marked the opening ceremony of the North Bay Stand Down’s fifth annual “A hand up, not a handout” event at the Dixon May Fair grounds.

More than 250 homeless veterans and their families were bused to the site for three days of hot meals, medical care, and camaraderie. “Our motto is ‘hand up,’ not ‘hand out’ because we want to reach out and help these guys out of the gutter,” said North Bay Stand Down chairman Patrick Stasio. “It’s all about helping get the veterans reintegrated into society as best we can.”

The Stand Down, a homeless veterans advocacy group event, boasts a comprehensive array of services. Key contributors, including the Veterans Administration and Solano County Health and Social Services, help to enable everything from medical and dental care to legal counseling and career advising on-site. “It’s a conglomeration of everyone coming together and providing the services these veterans need,” Stasio said, noting that the Solano County Board of Supervisors also made a $5,000 contribution.

Participants were given backpacks containing clothes, boots, a sleeping bag, hygiene kit and other supplies upon check-in, after agreeing to stay at the fairgrounds for the duration of the three full days. “It’s important not to forget the people that fought for you,” said veteran Frank Valles, who noted that he looks forward to taking advantage of dental and vision services during the next few days. “They’re the ones that really need help because it’s hard being alone out there.”

The event was a welcome break from the street for veterans like Valles, who has been homeless for more than 10 years. “There is great camaraderie,” added Vietnam veteran Timothy Valley from inside one of the 16 12-person tents where those attending are staying. “I have some legal issues I want to take care of in Solano County,” he said. Health and Social Services Director Patrick Duterte, a Vietnam veteran himself, was in attendance to help kick off the activities. “The significance is that whoever served has the feeling that we’re here to embrace them,” he said, noting that more than 50 members of his staff volunteered to staff the event. “A little bit of kindness is what it is, and you hope it spreads to other people.”

This goal seems to have caught on, since many people who attended Stand Downs in past years have gotten back on their feet and have returned to volunteer, Duterte said. Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine, Councilman Steve Wilkins and Treasurer Garland Porter also voiced their support prior to the opening ceremony. “It’s refreshing their lives in a way and it’s a chance for them to see they’re not alone in this world,” Augustine said. As the veterans stood at attention for an opening salute, they definitely were not alone. “These people have given us the best years of their lives and this is an opportunity for us to give them a hand up,” Wilkins added.