East Bay Stand Down wraps up 4-day, biannual event
Fairgrounds event held to provide services, a bit of cheer
Volunteers at last weekend's East Bay Stand Down at the Alameda County Fairgrounds outnumbered the participants by more than three to one, with more than 1,900 people coming out to help 390 homeless veterans -- including 21 women and 16 family members -- from across the Bay Area.
The vets were brought in by bus on Sept. 13 and left Sunday after being lodged in a huge tent city while receiving everything from dental and medical care to shots and shampoos for their pets.
"They're registered from VA (Veterans Affairs) offices in advance, so we know who's here," said Sandee Wiedemann of Pleasanton, a five-time Stand Down volunteer.
While Stand Down is all about the veterans, it's the volunteers that make the event what it is. Some, like Linda May of Dublin, have done multiple tours as Stand Down volunteers.
Last weekend was May's third time to volunteer; her daughter and son also volunteered again.
"My Dad was in the Navy but didn't see active duty," May said. "I have not been by touched by war or the loss of someone close to me."
Wiedemann has been working Stand Down events for more than a decade.
"My first time, I was the shoe lady, handing out shoes," she said. "It was a bonding experience."
Assistant Logistics Director Mike Weber was responsible for coordinating literally tons of items, everything from food to generators to golf carts and tents.
"There's no other community in this nation that can pull this off," Weber said. "Everything you see is borrowed -- I just ask people for stuff."
While here, the veterans were offered a wide range of services not readily available where they're living. These included medical exams, legal advice, haircuts and help finding housing.
Among those served this year were a woman and her granddaughter. The grandmother served 28 years in the Air Force and left in 2007. They came for the event from Oakland after hearing of it the day it began while waiting in line at the V.A. hospital.
The pair were put into Operation Dignity, which offers emergency and transitional housing for homeless vets, and came to Stand Down for medical and dental services while that housing was set up for them.
While the veterans were being helped, organizations such as the Tri-Valley Animal Rescue and Dogtopia cared for their pets with bathing, grooming and socialization. Veterinarians such as Tracey Williams of D.V.M., Dr. Raj of the ABC Animal Clinic, as well as staff from the Four Paws Veterinary Clinic and the Alisal Pet Clinic, were on hand to treat problems and, if necessary, perform surgery.
The pets included a parakeet and a snake, said former Judge Ron Hyde, who supervised Saturday night's dinner for the homeless men and women.
The East Bay Stand Down organization also offered new clothing, boots and other basic needs.
Starting in 2000, the group has put on the event every two years. It is aimed at breaking the cycle of problems facing many Bay Area vets. "Stand down" is a war term that refers to the practice of removing combat troops from the battlefield so that they can be cared for in a safe area, according to the group's website.
"We provide what we call a 'one stop shop,'" said Jerry Yahiro, who is on the board of directors for the East Bay Stand Down.
The goal is to end homelessness among veterans. Yahiro said the last numbers he has seen indicate that there are an estimated 15,000 homeless veterans living in the nine-county Bay Area.
Although many of the services offered at the Pleasanton event are available to veterans on a daily basis, Yahiro said they are often scattered and difficult to find.
Since the first Stand Down held in San Diego in 1988, Stand Downs have taken place in over 200 cities nationwide. Over 100,000 veterans and their families have benefited from Stand Downs. These events have proved to be very effective in helping to break the cycle of homelessness.