According to the Department of Veteran Affairs annual Point-in-Time Count, 37,085 veterans experienced homelessness in January of 2019. In order to combat the tragedy of veterans being homeless, or at risk of homelessness, the Eastern Carolina Human Services Agency NCServes Coastal coordinated a Veterans Stand Down at American Legion Post 265 in Jacksonville, Feb. 4.
Named in homage to safety stand downs which occur across military installations, the Veterans Stand Down brought together over 60 non-profits, veterans groups and area resources to aid veterans in need.
“This is an opportunity for veterans to come to resources they might not have known existed,” said Jerrick Vernon, program director for NCServes Coastal. “The VA is here to provide proof of service for veterans who don’t have their documentation. We also have thousands of items available.”
In addition to the food, clothing and sundries being distributed to veterans, other organizations provided literature on area programs. Among them was Onslow Community Outreach, which operates an area homeless shelter which gets veterans and families off the street and in touch with other resources.
“We help with housing assistance programs as well,” said Cindy Williams, Onslow Community Outreach director. “We served 51 homeless vets in 2019. 39 were distinct cases, meaning they got assisted once.”
To Vernon, a U.S. Air Force veteran, helping veterans is integral to the success of the community.
“I know firsthand how important it is to have all these resources under one umbrella,” Vernon said. “Veterans with transportation barriers can get access without worrying about how they will get there. … I couldn’t imagine Jacksonville without Lejeune. So many Marines get out and stay in the area. Veterans are integral to the economy here.”
Vernon also acknowledged the importance of career assistance to keep veterans off the streets.
“The military offers a lot of nontraditional jobs,” Vernon said. “There are not many civilian jobs where you load ammunition or shoot guns. Veterans who are hiring understand and can place folks in positions where they can help. I hope to connect veterans with an organization that can possibly save their lives. … Veterans had to risk not coming home in their duty. The least we, as a community, can do is come together to support them.”