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Stand Down aimed to equip homeless veterans for winter, life off the streets

October 11, 2015 Updated: October 11, 2015 at 3:25 pm
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photo - Duane Young, who served with the Iowa National Guard, gets a haircut from Toni and Guy Hairdressing Academy student Natasha Phillips at City Auditorium Thursday, October 16, 2014 for the Homeless Veteran Stand Down. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Duane Young, who served with the Iowa National Guard, gets a haircut from Toni and Guy Hairdressing Academy student Natasha Phillips at City Auditorium Thursday, October 16, 2014 for the Homeless Veteran Stand Down. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

One upcoming event could go a long way in the push to effectively end veteran homelessness in El Paso County.

The annual Stand Down - an event offering clothing, haircuts and access to myriad services for homeless veterans - is Oct. 20 at the Colorado Springs City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St.

In military parlance, the term "stand down" refers to rearming and re-equipping personnel for battle - a term advocates have adopted in their fight against veteran homelessness, said Joe Carlson, chairman of the El Paso County Homeless Veterans Coalition.

"We're getting them ready for a cold winter," he said.

Last year, roughly 150 veterans attended, and seven individuals and families were given shelter at a local hotel for two weeks.

This year, coffee and doughnuts will be offered before the 9 a.m. start, followed by distributions of jeans, coats, underwear, boots and other clothing. Each veteran will have the opportunity to receive a haircut and lunch and speak to dozens of homeless and social service organizations.

In addition, 14 individuals or families will be given shelter in a hotel for 18 days. Those selected will be asked to plan a way out of homelessness - all while being helped by a cadre of volunteers offering food, transportation and mentorship, Carlson said.

Unlike in past years, another nonprofit will work simultaneously to ensure that people who attend this year will no longer be homeless next October.

Homes for All Veterans, part of Rocky Mountain Human Services, has spearheaded an effort to effectively end veteran homelessness. While acknowledging that the county may never have zero homeless veterans (because transients may move here, or some people may resist getting housed), organizers want to ensure that no veterans are forced to live on the streets, and that homelessness is brief, rare and nonrecurring.

Reaching that point is called "functional zero," and specific benchmarks were established to meet those objectives by Dec. 31 as part of the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. That June 2014 initiative is a call to action by first lady Michelle Obama - with the support of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National League of Cities - for mayors across the country to commit to ending veteran homelessness in their cities by the end of 2015. Former Mayor Steve Bach made that commitment for Colorado Springs.

The effort has seen successes through housing dozens of veterans and better coordinating resources for people still on the streets. But several obstacles remain, including the region's dearth of affordable housing.

The Stand Down should help accelerate that cause, said Craig Schlattmann, Homes for All Veterans' program manager.

Surveys will be handed out to each veteran, gauging how much help they need to escape homelessness. The nonprofit plans to follow up with each person afterward.

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