Events set up to help homeless veterans

Events set up to help homeless veterans

DANVILLE — A hearty meal, haircut and good conversation are things that many people take for granted.

But for homeless veterans, they are often a luxury.

On Saturday, the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System is joining forces with 20 local agencies and organizations to provide vets who are homeless or those who are at risk with these things and much more at the second annual "Stand Down for Homeless Veterans."

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the David S. Palmer Arena, 100 W. Main St., Danville. The band Hoosier Daddy will provide entertainment.

It will be the first of four stand-down events that will be held this year. Another is set for October, and two are set for November.

"This will be like a one-stop shop for veterans," said Jennifer Gerrib, Illiana's Homeless Veterans Program coordinator. "They'll be able to come in, get a meal and a free hair cut, and we'll set them up with a lot of other services."

"Our outreach workers are always finding people who are eligible for VA services but have never accessed them before," she continued. "If people have never used the VA, they can come down and register and learn what services could assist them."

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 67,000 homeless veterans on any given night.

"That's actually down from 136,000" in 2009, Gerrib said, adding the VA began its initiative to end homelessness among their service population at that time. "So we are making a difference."

Illiana's Homeless Veterans program aims to prevent vets — from western Indiana to Charleston, Mattoon, Springfield and Peoria — from becoming homeless, and to help those who are find housing as well as get the resources they need to become self-sufficient. It serves anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 a year, Gerrib said.

"We're seeing a lot more women and families now," she added.

The stand-down will bring community agencies and organizations that can assist veterans and their families together under one roof. Veterans throughout the service area were invited to the event, and those out of town were provided with bus tickets to get there.

"They will get a lot of free items," Gerrib said, adding that in addition to a meal from County Market, they will get a take-home meal as well.

The veterans will receive sweatshirts, winter coats, boots and other clothing through Project New Hope, a partnership between the VA and Department of Defense to disburse surplus clothing to veterans. Gerrib also has T-shirts, underwear, socks, backpacks, inflatable coolers, flashlights and batteries through the National Homeless Hotline.

"Most of the stuff we have is brand new," she said.

Local agencies and organizations will provide information about services and programs they can provide veterans at booths. For example, they can learn about and sign up for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, if they're not already enrolled.

Vets also will be required to play "Resource Jeopardy," based on the TV game show, which will give them information on accessing community resources. By doing so, they can earn Vermilion Advantage "Chamber dollars," which they can use at County Market, Aldi and other participating businesses.

Last year, the inaugural event drew 100 veterans, Gerrib said. "I expect at least that many (on Saturday) if not more," she said.