PUBLISHED: September 23, 2021 at 6:03 a.m. | UPDATED: September 23, 2021 at 1:37 p.m.
LAKEPORT — The Lake County “Stand Down homeless and resource fair” took place at the fairgrounds Fitch Hall Wednesday. The Stand Down is an annual one day event. This year it included over 25 organizations in attendance.
Frank Parker, 80, who was heavily involved in starting the first “Stand Down” in 2011 is called the “father” of the event by Bob Hopkins, the Lake County Vet Connect chairperson. Parker said, “We knew there was a need for the homeless in this area when we started it. In the beginning 100 people came to the Stand Down. The number keeps dropping because the vets are getting the help they need.”
Hopkins estimated that approximately 50 veterans registered for this year’s Stand Down.
According to Hopkins, the term “stand down” was derived during war time, which was a time for a soldiers’ relief from combat where they could rest and recuperate, get services they couldn’t get in combat zones; get mail, write mail, dental care, medicine, and a hot meal.
“One of the benefits of the Stand Down here,” said Parker, “is to get the vet enrolled in the VA health care system. If they’re healthy, the chance of recovery from homelessness and drugs is great. We have the contacts that can handle that individual.”
Hopkins said, “We concentrate on the homeless because they are the most needy.”
One such organization participating was the Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program. Edgar J. Rosales, a representative for Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), attended as a liaison for the WWFP. According to their website, “the Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program was established in 2008 to provide wounded and/or disabled veterans an opportunity to work for Congress. These two-year paid fellowships provide veterans with experience and exposure to broaden career opportunities.”
Justin Ammon of Elijah House also participated. He spoke with Sharon Oubre, whose father is a veteran. Oubre told of how her family, consisting of the father, brother, husband and son, lost their two houses, two cars and two trucks due to Hurricane Ida. “Everything was gone,” said Oubre. “Leveled.” The family of five has been living at a motel in Ukiah since September 4. “Our stay there ends tomorrow, the 23rd.”
The family came to Lake County because Oubre’s sister and brother are located here and in Ukiah. They’ve spoken to Elijah House and the VA Ukiah Clinic, participants at the Stand Down fair, hoping that someone at the Stand Down can help them find housing.
Lori Cortes, manager of the ER trauma program at Sutter Hospital, was giving out trauma assessment sheets plus ‘fall prevention’ information. She was very keen on Sutter “treating patients like families. Patients first,” she said.
The county Veteran Service Office in Lakeport also had a table at Fitch Hall for the fair. Veteran Service Representative II Denver Cortez said, “The VSO helps vets get benefits they’ve earned. Today we’ve helped about a dozen vets with administration questions. The majority don’t realize they are entitled to certain benefits.”
One example Cortez gave was of a Vietnam Vet who asked how to get a ‘veteran stamp’ on his drivers license and found out that he was eligible for many more benefits than just that stamp.
Cortez said one specific veteran was eligible for back benefits equaling $90,000, on top of his monthly benefits, that he wasn’t aware of. “This is not the norm,” said Cortez, “it was just specific to this vet’s case. But it’s just the coolest feeling to help someone get what they’ve earned.”
Brimming with information, Cortez even told of how a family member of a deceased WWII veteran can request (via submitting proper paperwork) military records that could tell of the veteran’s medals earned.
Cortez added that the VSO also directs vets to mental health benefits.
Fitch Hall was hot and buzzing with conversations and people milling around, checking out each of the resources, as is customary during the event. One vet experienced a medical issue and an ambulance was promptly called to help him.
Joe Cholewa said that the Sonoma County Military Order of the Purple Heart No. 78, the Cotati VFW No. 3237 and the VVA (Vietnam Veterans of America) No. 223 of Sonoma County brought 600 pounds of food to the Stand Down Fair for military and homeless. “We’re not taking any food back with us,” he said. Stand Down organizers said they will donate any leftovers to Lake county Family Resources Domestic Violence for abused women and children.
Hospice was also at the fair. Christine Aponte, Hospice volunteer coordinator, said, “We’re here representing the need for advance care directive and we have staff that can help people/vets complete the directive.”
Many veterans, most wearing their veteran caps, who volunteered to help during the fair walked around and spoke to people, asking if they needed help. Parker, an Army vet with the 25th Infantry Division, said that, “By having this Stand Down, the resource providers tell of services that vets can use. A healthy vet is what we strive for.”
The contact for the Veterans Crisis line for anyone who reads it is 1-800-273-8255, press option 1.