Homelessness among military veterans in our area has been the subject of discussion, study and community meetings in recent months, and on Friday it was the subject of action, too.
The first of what organizers plan will be an annual event for as long as it’s needed, Athens Area Stand Down was held to aid former service members and others who are homeless or are threatened by homelessness in Athens and nearby counties. It offered immediate aid – food, clothing, bedding and other supplies – as well as medical screening and longer-term help through access to jobs, housing, and public and private services.
The project got its name through the military term “stand down,” meaning to take a break, a breather. The local version mirrors one held in Ross County for the last six years that has drawn veterans from a wide region of the state.
“We began planning it in May of last year,” said George McCarthy, judge of the Athens County Court of Common Pleas, “and a lot of people have put work into it. And a lot of businesses have made contributions, as you can see.”
McCarthy pointed to the room full of tables stacked high with goods donated to aid veterans in need. The event was held Friday at the Athens County Fairgrounds, and the room over which he gestured is normally the Junior Fair Building.
The inaugural Stand Down drew between 50 and 60 veterans and an unknown number of others and, it seemed, nearly as many aid organizations. These ranged from a building full of job service agencies to a Veterans Administration bus offering flu shots, from medical, mental-health and dental screening to legal services and housing agencies. The Athens County League of Women Voters offered voter registration.
Rebecca Dicken of Tri-County Career Center in Nelsonville brought 13 cosmetology students who were joined by Andy Trout of Carsey’s Barber Shop in providing free haircuts. Substance-abuse and alcoholism treatment organizations were present for any who sought their services; as with the population as a whole, drugs and alcohol issues have plagued part of the veteran community.
Logistics were handled by OU ROTC’s Bobcat Battalion, who among other things ferried participants from parking and drop-off areas to the top of the fairgrounds. There, people would register, be offered a bite to eat, and be directed to buildings or tables serving areas of particular interest.
Participants could then find people who might help them get a job, get a meal, get a checkup, and even get a roof to sleep under.