FARMINGTON — Johnny Reames helped carry in boxes of supplies during the San Juan County Homeless Stand Down Friday at San Juan College's Health and Human Performance Center.
Reames attended the Stand Down -- an annual event that provides services to the homeless, particularly to veterans -- both to volunteer and to seek services. He said he is on disability and has been sleeping in a tent not far from Totah Behavioral Health for the past two and a half years.
"I choose to be homeless because I don't like to be around people," he said.
Although unemployed, he works as a volunteer for Totah, running Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working with recovering addicts.
Reames said events like the Stand Down, which is now in its second year, reassure those in need that they are not alone.
"It really gives us a sense that people do care for the homeless. Whether they believe it or not, I know they really do care," he said.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2182 organized the event, which was specifically designed to provide veterans with services. Other organizers included the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions' Veterans Employment and Training.
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 rest and regroup before being sent back.
The local Stand Down's goal was to provide information, guidance and support services to help homeless individuals regain productive and self-supportive lifestyles.
Representatives from agencies such as San Juan County Partnership, Four Winds Recovery and the Women Veterans of New Mexico set up booths to provide information and support.
San Juan Regional Medical Center staff administered 100 free flu shots.
"We can get more flu shots if needed," said Donna Mitchell, a hospital employee. "I think it's important to keep people healthy, so giving the free flu shots makes a big difference. The hospital's really good at providing services like this to the community."
While the event was geared toward veterans, anyone in need could receive services, said the event's lead facilitator Beverly Charley, who is local veterans employment representative for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
Charley explained that those who came to the Stand Down were divided into veterans and non-veterans.
Both groups first checked out the service booths to learn about agencies in the community that provide help with housing, employment and health care. They then could receive other services, such as free haircuts, showers, clothing, medical help and lunch. Veterans could also get help with enrollment for Veterans Affairs medical and housing services.
"Some of the homeless come in and immediately ask for the free giveaways, but the whole deal is to connect them with needed services, so that's where we direct them first," Charley said. "It's great to have all the support of the agencies that are here today, so these people can get help."