Sentinel staff report–
Holy Family Catholic Church was bustling with activity Tuesday morning as veterans, many of whom were homeless, arrived to be served a hot meal and receive access to more than two dozen services. By the end of the day-long “Stand Down” event, organizers said more than 100 veterans had been served.
The 3rd annual Veterans Stand Down was hosted by the Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART), in coordination with more than 100 community volunteers and participation from various service organizations and government assistance agencies. Event Coordinator Patrick Miller said the event modeled stand-downs used during the Vietnam War that provided troops with clean uniforms and other services, with the local event providing “anything that a vet may need.”
From donuts, to clothing and chiropractic adjustments provided on site — everything was provided for free. Breakfast and lunch were donated by area businesses and served to attendees by the Knights of Columbus, transportation to the event was provided by The Way Ministries, and free chiropractic care was provided by Dr. James Padgett, a Folsom-based chiropractor.
A large building towards the rear of the church campus was also set up with a wide array of shoes, toiletries, military surplus duffel bags, and neatly stacked and organized rows of donated clothing.
Tanya Haddock, a volunteer with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said she helped collect the donated supplies and was on site welcoming each veteran and assisting them in finding items.
“The important thing is for them to feel loved and appreciated for their service,” she said. “This is just a way for us to give back to them. Without them we don’t have the freedom I so enjoy.”
Organizers said the majority of veterans served at the past three stand-down events have been homeless, but attendees range from those currently on the streets, to those struggling or just wanting to connect with available resources.
A 70-year-old veteran named Hector, who was seated at a table in the event’s dining area Tuesday morning, said he found himself without a roof over his head after his home in South Sacramento burned down about a month ago.
“I woulda never thought I’d be without a home, but it’s good to have a place like this,” the Vietnam veteran said. “Not just because of breakfast, but because someone’s here to help you.”
Thanks to recent support from a non-profit called Volunteers of America, which participated in Tuesday’s stand down, Hector said he’ll soon be back in a home. “All I got to do is find me a one-bedroom rental and I’ll be back on my feet again.”
Stan Munoz, a volunteer coordinator for the event, said he helped assemble more than 100 volunteers from area churches and faith-based ministries to assist with the event. He said the group had a goal to serve 100 veterans and was pleased to have surpassed that target, with a total of 105 veterans checking in by the time the event wrapped up at 4 p.m.
Contacted by phone the day following the event, Miller called the stand down “very successful” and said participants had “walked away with multiple services and lots and lots of gear.” He also said the event helped connect various service providers, who often aren’t aware of what other services are available in the area.
Representatives from the Citrus Heights Police Department, along with Councilman Albert Fox and Assemblyman Ken Cooley were among those seen mingling among the crowd.
Citrus Heights Police Lt. Dave Gutierrez, who attended Tuesday’s event, said he has seen improvement in homelessness in the city since HART was formed in 2014, with the stand down being “an important component.”
“Being able to provide services and/or find housing for our veterans who made sacrifices for our country, on many levels, is a priority,” Gutierrez said in an email following the event. “Any time you get that many resources in one location for the sole purpose of helping people, it will have a positive and long-lasting impact.”
The April 3 stand down event is one of several efforts Citrus Heights HART assists with each year as part of its mission to implement long-term solutions to homelessness through public-private partnerships. Through a partnership with the City of Citrus Heights and Sacramento Self-Help Housing, HART now has a full-time homeless navigator who works year-round to connect area homeless with resources.
The group also recently concluded its annual “winter sanctuary” program, offering meals and shelter to area homeless through partnering with local churches.