A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out - Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
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Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System

 

A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out

A volunteer helps a homeless Veteran pick out clothing.

A Stand Down volunteer (left) helps a homeless Veteran pick out clothing. Photo by Nathan Schaeffer

By Nathan Schaeffer
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

For the second consecutive year, the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC) partnered with the local community to hold a Homeless Veterans Stand Down at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.

Almost 40 organizations participated in the event on May 12, which served 175 homeless Veterans and connected them with VA and community resources to help them escape from homelessness.  During the afternoon, the Stand Down was also opened up to the general public and services were provided to 124 non-Veteran homeless people.

“Homelessness is often a lonely existence and this gives our Veterans hope that there are people and agencies that care for them and there are in fact resources available to help them get back on their feet,” said Melanie Goldman, the JCMVAMC Homeless and Compensated Work Therapy Program Manager.  “Stand Downs are an opportunity for VA staff to go into the community to seek Veterans out for assistance as opposed to them coming to us.”

Prior to the doors opening at 8 a.m., homeless Veterans who stood in line outside the church were greeted to the sound of roaring motorcycle engines as the Patriot Guard Riders of Oklahoma arrived to demonstrate their support for the Veterans.  The motorcycle group shook the hands of Veterans and offered them words of encouragement.

“We’ve come out to support them and show them that there’s somebody who cares,” said David Priest, an Army Veteran and Patriot Guard Rider.

Throughout the day, Veterans who attended the Stand Down were given food, new shoes and clothing, access to a mobile laundry and shower trailer, haircuts and health screenings.  They also were given the opportunity to enroll for VA health care and learn about VA benefits and local resources.

Homeless Veterans were also given the opportunity to attend a job fair and meet with recruiters from the American Red Cross, Baker-Hughes, Borets Weatherford, Coca-Cola, Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Goodwill Industries, Transportation Connection and Trinity Industries.

“We want to support our troops and our Veterans and thank them for their service,” said Cheryl Kilker, a recruiter for Coca-Cola.

Kilker said Coca-Cola also wants to give Veterans jobs and has open positions in both Okmulgee and Tulsa for customer service representatives, drivers, production workers, merchandisers and warehouse workers.

Prior to attending the job fair, Veterans had the opportunity to get a shower and haircut and get new shoes and clothing.  Then they were partnered with a volunteer who served as an employment guide who helped them with their employment search.

More than 150 volunteers served the homeless during the Stand Down including Dolores Quinn, a member of the Blue Star Mothers Chapter 1 in Tulsa, who passed out bags which contained toiletries and non-perishable food.

“I love the Veterans and I love that they’re helping us, protecting us,” said Quinn, who has a daughter who served in Afghanistan and is currently serving in the Navy.  “This is my second year to do this and it’s so satisfying.  I love it.”

Blake Ellard also served as a volunteer and helped Veterans find clothing.  Last year, Ellard attended the Stand Down as a homeless Veteran and thanks to the help of the JCMVAMC Homless Program is now back on his feet.

“They’ve been really good to me, so it’s about time I step up and help other people that were in my shoes,” said Ellard, a Navy Veteran who was homeless for nearly a year and a half.  “So it’s a good opportunity for me to give back.”

Ellard said the Stand Down is critical for the homeless, especially as a resource for them to get new clothing.

“There are few places that have clothing,” he said.  “Here they’re able to get brand new shoes and jeans.  It gives you a good feeling about yourself when you walk down the street with new clothes on.”

One Veteran Ellard helped was Navy Veteran Robert Wilson who said he only had a blanket and bed roll when he sleeps outside.

“I didn’t have a sleeping bag or nothing and now I’ve got a waterproof sleeping bag and everything,” said Wilson.  “This is a blessing.  It’s wonderful.”

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