SAN ANTONIO – The help offered Friday at the 22nd annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans was based on what organizers said was the kind of safe retreat troops had during the Vietnam War.
"Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirits, health and overall sense of well-being," said Julianna Gonzaba, spokeswoman for the American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program.
Gonzaba said secure base camps gave troops a respite in a safe environment.
The parking lot next door to the American GI Forum on North Flores Street served a similar purpose thanks to more than 50 community agencies and nonprofits.
Of the more than 450 homeless people who showed up, Gonzaba said nearly 300 of them were veterans.
The homeless people were offered help with their basic needs, such as food and clothing and haircuts. They were also offered flu shots, housing and employment assistance and mental-health counseling.
Carlos Martinez, president and CEO of the American GI Forum, said the turnout was less than in previous years, but it's an indication of the outreach in Military City USA.
“Homeless veterans are a priority with the city, with community agencies,” Martinez said. “We’ve been able to address the problem extensively with a lot of support from the corporate world, as well.”
But Martinez said many homeless veterans are still struggling with the consequences of substance abuse, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
One of the homeless veterans at the event didn't elaborate, but said, "It's been hard. It's been real, real hard. A lot of obstacles, but I'm surviving. I'm a survivor."
Enoch Reynolds, who served in the U.S. Navy, said the event helped introduce him to the help that's available to him and other homeless veterans.
“I didn’t know how many services we had out there, and we had all this support,” Reynolds said.