Community unites behind North County Stand Down and changes lives

We often hear about the tragedy of homeless veterans. These men and women faithfully served our country, yet are too often left struggling with joblessness, homelessness, physical and mental illness, and despair.

Green Oak Ranch partners with North County Stand Down to bring hope and help to homeless veterans and their families. This four-day event is held at the Ranch and is making a difference.

Matt Foster is the Commander of VFW Post 1513 (Escondido) and is the Chairman of North County Stand Down. “At North County Stand Down we take homeless veterans off the street for four days,” said Matt. “We give them a respite from the street and all the resources they need to find housing and employment.”

The VFW is one of dozens of local organizations, and more than 400 donors/volunteers that support the Stand Down, providing a range of services and hospitality to the guests. “It is a chance for them to eat, relax, get healthy, and perhaps even turn their lives around,” said Matt. The number of organizations that support the Stand Down is staggering and every service and resource is absolutely free.

170 guests were served at this year’s event. Guests were even “collected” from areas around North County and bused to the Ranch. We had a group of volunteers go to Grape Day Park in Escondido and literally ‘shake the bushes,’ and tell people about the event.

It is the beginning of life change for many of these homeless vets.

The event is run like a resort hotel. Each guest is, “checked in” and given a secure place for their belongings. They are given a Hygiene kit and invited to wash and get some new clothes. The experience is dignified. “These men and women signed a blank check for their country, that potentially included their life,” said Matt. “We want them to feel honored.” Green Oak Ranch provides a clean cabin, warm bed, and hot showers for each guest throughout the four-day event. “I haven’t slept two nights in a row in five years,” said one grateful vet.

After checking in, the guests are welcome to just relax and enjoy the 40′ x 200′ resource tent, featuring a broad array of free products and services. Dental care, medical care, legal aid, clothing, haircuts, eye care, court and legal services, employment services and so much more. “It’s a real chance for someone to begin to turn their life around,” said Matt.

A separate tent provided “spa” services for the women. Meals, snacks, beverages and entertainment were available throughout each day. A team of pastoral counselors were on staff during the weekend and provided spiritual and emotional support to the guests, often for hours at a time.

The beautiful and serene grounds offer relief from harsh conditions on the street. Green Oak Ranch provided breakfast, dinner and snacks throughout the day. Lunch was hosted each day by a different local restaurant. “These people show up freezing, hungry, stressed and street hard, said Matt. “They leave clean, relaxed, full and more hopeful.” One man said, “This is the best time I’ve had in years.”

“The stand down relieves pain — mental, physical, emotional and spiritual,” said Matt.

Many homeless also have pets. A fully staffed pet zone offered pet grooming, veterinary care, rabies shots and “pet sitting,” while the guests enjoyed their stay.

One man came in with such a severe tooth ache that he was barely able to eat. He was seen immediately by one of the volunteer dentists and left with a smile.

Dozens of people received a new pair of custom glasses, made onsite. Many of these people had tears streaming down their face as they were able to read for the first time in years.

For many homeless people, mounting fines and lack of access to support services combine to keep them on the streets. North County Superior Court set up “homeless court” on site and helped dozens of people, forgiving almost $75,000 in fines related to homelessness and vagrancy. The Court scheduled appointments for those that couldn’t be processed onsite and distributed blue cards to help people access the same benefits following the event.

This was the second year for the Stand Down in North County. The original Stand Down has been held near downtown San Diego for over 30 years.

Last year a woman came to the event. She was homeless, mistrustful and bitter. As a result of the services she received at last year’s event she was able to finally settle a decades long claim with the VA that resulted in her getting her veterans benefits approved retroactively. Today she is in the process of buying a condo in Carlsbad and returned to this year’s event as a happy volunteer!

This is a collaborative community effort and the response has been terrific,” said Matt. For more information about next year’s event visit NCStandDown.org.

Donors and supporters include:

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