Stand Down event at college aimed at addressing needs of homeless veterans

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — When asked why he thinks so many people who are veterans of the U.S. military wind up homeless, Larry Finch, the program coordinator at the San Juan College Veterans Center, has a short answer — it's that many of them simply have a hard time returning to civilian life.

But the long answer is a little more complicated, he acknowledged.

Finch, who will oversee the center's Stand Down event on Friday, Oct. 14 on the college campus in Farmington, said too many veterans who are experiencing a personal crisis fall through the gaps in the safety net that has been established to help them.

Friday's event — which will offer free food, clothing, haircuts, dental services, sleeping bags, backpacks, hygiene kits and access to programs and services related to mental health, health, housing and employment to all homeless people, not just veterans — is designed to give those folks another chance at receiving the help that is being offered by a variety of agencies.

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But getting them to take advantage of those programs and services is another matter, he said, because of the self-reliance mindset that was instilled in them during their days in the military.

"Absolutely. I hear that every day," Finch said, explaining why so many veterans who need help seem unwilling to accept it. " … They'll say, 'It's because I'm a warrior. I was always told to figure it out for myself.'"

That kind of outlook may be an advantage in a combat setting. But for veterans who wind up living on the streets despite the existence of dozens of programs designed to help them avoid that fate, it is a hindrance to their well-being, he said.

Larry Finch

Finch's approach to changing that mindset is to remind veterans in that situation that they deserve to receive the assistance that is being offered to them.

"I tell them, "You earned it. Nobody else did. You earned this, so take advantage of it,'" he said.

Finch hopes to see at least 150 folks show up for Friday's event, even if it's simply to get a haircut, a winter jacket and something to eat. But he said representatives of more than 50 agencies and organizations will be on hand to offer attendees additional, longer-term services that can help them address whatever issues landed them in a homeless situation to begin with.

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There has always been a significant homeless population in San Juan County, Finch said, but he believes the number of people in that situation has climbed noticeably since the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants all those folks to understand that if they come to the college on Friday for the event, they will be entering a judgment-free zone.

"I want them to know it's going to be a safe place," he said.

The event will begin with a short, outdoor ceremony that includes the Pledge of Allegiance, the presentation of colors by the Kirtland Central High School Junior ROTC and the singing of the national anthem by the Piedra Vista High School choir.

The San Juan College Veterans Center is presenting a Stand Down event on Friday that will connect homeless people with various organizations and programs designed to help them get back on their feet.

Immediately afterward, veterans can get inside and start seeing to their immediate and long-term needs. Finch said he has been marketing the event through the passing out of fliers in the downtown area and through advertisements on Red Apple Transit buses.

Those who need transportation to the event will be offered two options, he said. A local Veterans of Foreign Wars post is allowing Finch's organization to use its 15-passenger van to ferry homeless people from downtown to the college's main campus and back, and Red Apple Transit buses will be running between those two points throughout the day.

Stand Down takes place from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14 in the Health and Human Performance Center on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Call 505-566-3970 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.