FARMINGTON — Organizers are asking the public to donate items for the second annual San Juan County Homeless Stand Down, which takes place Oct. 25 at San Juan College.
The Stand Down's mission is to provide information and support services to the homeless and help them become self-reliant. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2182 is organizing the local event.
Donations of new socks and underwear and new or gently-used blankets, backpacks, shoes, sweatshirts, sweatpants and other clothing items are needed, as well as hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.
Individuals who come to the Stand Down will be able to choose items they need, and ECHO Food Bank will provide them a bag of non-perishable food.
While the Stand Down is targeted at homeless veterans, all homeless individuals are welcome, said Beverly Charley, a local veterans employment representative for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and the lead facilitator for the Stand Down.
Last year, 55 veterans and 105 non-veterans received help at the Stand Down.
More than 35 agencies are scheduled to offer services and information at this year's event, Charley said. The homeless can get free haircuts and a hot meal and take a shower.
"San Juan Regional Medical Center has donated 100 flu shots, and the Red Apple will be offering free transit services all day to the public to help the homeless get there," she said. "There will also be a VFW van that will also be patrolling the city to pick up people who want a ride to and from the Stand Down."
Church representatives and the Mobile Vet Center will provide counseling services, and representatives from Navajo Nation veterans groups and the Diné Medicine Men Association will also be on site.
Stand down is a military term dating back to the Vietnam War. It refers to the practice of pulling soldiers from the frontline to allow them to take a shower, have a hot meal, rest and regroup before being sent back.
"Today, it's our homeless that are still out there, battling without enough food and shelter," Charley said. "We also hope to provide them with general information they may not know exists."
Charley knows what it's like for soldiers to exit active duty and find themselves without adequate resources to resume a non-military life. In 2005, she got out of the Army after serving 14 years, which included deployments to Somalia and Iraq and two to Haiti. While deployed, Charley's mother took care of her young daughter.
Once she got out of the service, Charley said she didn't have enough resources to get her own home. For several years, she and her daughter slept on the floor of her mother's living room.
"When I got out of the service, I didn't realize how expensive everything would be. And with the economy the way it is, it's hard for veterans to find jobs," she said.
In 2010, Charley became a homeowner through the Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity program.
"A lot of veterans get out and find themselves, if not necessarily at the poverty level, having a hard time because of the economy," Charley said. "Many had not thought it through and weren't ready to leave the military. They find themselves in a financial hole and are saying, 'I didn't plan for this.'"
For some, that's a hole that can eventually lead to homelessness.
Thomas Smith, readjustment counseling therapist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said events like the Stand Down are important because while veterans are entitled to many benefits, not all take advantage of the services.
"For whatever reason, some have chosen not to stay engaged in society," Smith said. "We want to let them know these benefits, like housing grants and low-income programs, are available and accessible. Maybe we can reach some who are tired of the (homeless) lifestyle, but don't know how to change it."
What: San Juan County Homeless Stand Down
When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 25
Where: San Juan College, Health and Human Performance Center, 4601 College Blvd., Farmington
More info: Call Beverly Charley at 505-327-6126 to find out how to donate items or to volunteer for the event.