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Janelle Wetzstein of The Skanner News
Published: 12 September 2011

Offering a helping hand will be the focus of the First Annual Seattle Stand Down for Homeless Veterans.  The event, scheduled for Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will be held at Seattle Central Community College and is expected to connect over 500 homeless veterans and their families to a variety of services.

Event organizer Samuel Barrett said that Stand Down will target veterans who have returned to civilian life, but have lacked the proper support to successfully reintegrate into society. 

"Some of the vets who attend these events may not have had the support network they needed when they got out," he said.  "We are going to have a whole host of services for these veterans to take advantage of, and hopefully get themselves into better circumstances."

The Stand Down event began in 1988 in San Diego and focused on veterans who were homeless or at risk of being homeless.  It was modeled after the Stand Down concept used during the Vietnam War, which provided soldiers returning from combat the opportunity to rest and renew their health and spirits.  The Seattle Stand Down hopes to accomplish the same results for veterans.

Dennis Brown, project manager for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project at the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs, said the Seattle Stand Down will also offer fellowship for veterans.

"I think it's important for the veterans who haven't touched any of these services to be reached," Brown said.  "It is also very important to bring veterans together so they can talk, have a safe haven where they can come and get some personal hygiene, get some medical issues dealt with, get some food in their stomachs, and get some clean clothes."

The Seattle Stand Down will offer all of these services, along with alcohol and drug counseling and long-term resource referrals for employment, low-income housing and legal assistance.  Between 20 and 30 agencies are offering their services, free of charge, to the Stand Down event. 

 "No one is being compensated," Barrett said. "Every single agency and person is donating their time and energy to make this happen."

Erica Ellis, an online volunteer specialist at United Way, said that without volunteers and these agencies, this event would not be possible.

 "You need a lot of people there to answer questions, guide people and keep things moving and under control," she said.  "That would be a huge expense if you had to pay staff to fill that role.  You couldn't have this event without people volunteering their time and services."

Last October Dr. Paul Killpatrick, president of SCCC, attended the Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges meeting where veterans' advisers from local colleges spoke about the specific needs of veterans.  These advisors explained how veterans are more susceptible to post-traumatic stress, dropping out of school and unemployment. 

 "It just really raised my consciousness about veterans," Killpatrick said.  "About a week later '60 Minutes' did a special on the Stand Down project in San Diego.  I told Sam Barrett, the president of our Student Veterans Club, I wanted to do one, and he ran with it."

Barrett, an Army veteran who has served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, was excited about the project.

 "I, like many other people in the military, went through my share of traumatic events," he said.  "I was able to deal with it because I had the support of my family and friends.  I had that support network that a lot of veterans don't.  I don't know how they get through without it."

Barrett began contacting local agencies for help, including United Way of King County.  Through those connections, Barrett was able to secure corporate volunteers from companies like UPS and the Seattle Mariners. 

Ellis said that they are sending at least 100 volunteers from local corporations to work the event, including the Mariner Moose.

"It is kind of a unique volunteer opportunity in that, volunteers are only helping for one day, but they get to have some direct contact with the client, and actually help connect someone with a service," she said.  "It is a volunteer opportunity for our corporate clients that has a deep impact."

Killpatrick said that this event is important for veterans and the people they impact.

"We don't have a draft because veterans volunteer to be there for us," he said.  "If we help them, they can show others what it is like to put service before self, to give back to the community, to answer the call of duty and then come back and be a citizen."      

For more information or to volunteer, please call 206-934-5417 or visit www.seattlestanddown.com.

Janelle Wetzstein contributes to The Skanner News from the UW NewsLab in Seattle, Wa.

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