Dave Zickler’s heavy-duty high-top boots had definitely seen better days.
“These ones are getting funky,” he said, pointing to a split in the leather of one of his 2-year-old buff-colored boots.
Thanks to Thursday’s 12th annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans at the City Auditorium, the 56-year-old Army vet will be stepping out in a new pair of boots — not to mention a new heavy coat — just in time for the arrival of wintery weather.
“This is good. This is real good,” he said.
Loading homeless veterans up with coats, boots, jeans, toiletries, flu shots and connections to essential services is what the Stand Down is all about, and organizers anticipated a record turnout as the economic downturn continues to take its toll on employment.
“The economy put me here,” said Mike “Jethro” Snyder, a former Marine who has made his living working on ranches. “I’ve been a cowboy all my life, but I’ve just run out of work.”
Snyder, 55, was taking advantage of the one Stand Down station that provides the most immediate change for the vets: a haircut. About 10 volunteer stylists from Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy clipped, buzzed and shaved a steady stream of veterans, taking them from scruffy to slick in a matter of minutes.
“It means a lot, getting cleaned up,” said Snyder, who was getting his shoulder-length salt-and-pepper hair cut to “Mad Men” length.
The event is staged by the El Paso County Stand Down Coalition, which pays for the clothing, toiletries, lunch and other provisions through donations from businesses and the Veterans Administration, and money that comes from a state tobacco grant. This year’s event was expected to cost about $10,000.
But there are many freebies and discounts that contribute to the event’s success. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people volunteer their time, either on their own or through organizations that include the Red Cross. The city donated use of the auditorium, which would have cost $2,100. Walmart provided discounts on the clothing.
“It’s great to give back to the community,” said Chrissy Quinterro of Toni & Guy, her blue-tipped fingers flying around Snyder’s hair.
Uniformed volunteers from the area’s military installations served as personal escorts for each homeless veteran, taking them from station to station and getting to know them.
“It’s an awesome experience, and something close to my heart,” said 2nd Lt. Elizabeth De Jesus, who is stationed at Schriever AFB and was escorting 49-year-old Maureen Smith. “Being in the military and seeing veterans in situations like this is devastating.”
No one is sure how many homeless veterans are in the Pieks Peak region, but estimates range from 200 to 500. Last year’s event drew 130 vets.