Fourth annual Fall Stand Down aids homeless veterans
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Members of the homeless population in Central Texas were welcomed and treated to hot meals, a hot shower and other services at the 4th annual Fall Stand Down hosted by Operation Stand Down Central Texas at the National Guard Armory in Killeen Saturday.
Operation Stand Down Central Texas is a non-profit organization that started in director Joann Courtland’s Copperas Cove garage after she witnessed and helped out at a similar Stand Down event in Alabama in 2009. She helped serve over a hundred veterans that day and knew that she could do something similar in her local community in Central Texas, she said. They hold two events per year, in October and April, but offer help year round through their 2,400-square-foot shop at the Cove Terrace Shopping Center
Texas has seen a decrease in the total number of homeless people, going from 28,495 in 2014 to 23,122 in January 2016, while the homeless veteran population decreased from 2,718 in 2014 to 1,768 in 2016, according to data gathered by the Homelessness Research Institute and the 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Courtland is the daughter and sister of veterans and a veteran herself, while her husband is currently still serving. The focus of the Stand Down events is to help homeless veterans but they don’t turn anyone away, Courtland said.
Anyone who showed up to the event, which lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and needed help was escorted by a volunteer around to the different stations, from a medical or dental or vision screening to a haircut provided by students from the Central Texas Barber College. Representatives from organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Texas Veterans Commission, Families in Crisis and the Killeen Housing Authority were there to answer any questions people had. Students with Central Texas College Culinary Arts provided meals for attendees and volunteers. Each person was issued a backpack and a sack that they could fill with up to three complete outfits, up to two pairs of shoes, a jacket, underwear, socks, and hygiene items. If they needed a sleeping bag, they were given one.
Fredric Walton said he grabbed a sleeping bag and planned to use it whenever he got his own place until he would be able to get furniture. Walton, who found out about the event from his friend William Harmon, who was also at the event, said the event made him feel like a different person and that he felt like a king being escorted around.
“I think it’s good for people, because some people that come here might not have a lot of family here,” Walton said. “And it helps brighten their day when they might be a little bit down here.”
Harmon, who has come to a few other OSDCT Stand Downs before, said he thought the event was wonderful and thanked God for the event happening.
Taylor Lee and Tyler Seward also enjoyed the event and everything it offered. Lee and Seward, and their two-month-old daughter, Miracle, found themselves staying in a shelter just the night before, where they learned about the event. At the event, they received the many different services offered and enjoyed seeing people like volunteer Peta-Gay Jones hold and pay attention to their daughter.
Jones, who is a veteran from the Army, said she thought the event and what OSDCT does is amazing.
“You know, we have a lot of us that are homeless, that are in need, so I feel like this is a very good organization in order to give back to those that are in need,” Jones said.
She added that she thought this was the only event of its kind in the area and that while there are several nonprofits in the area, not many do something like this.
During the event, the TEGNA Foundation and Channel 6 KCEN News presented Courtland with a check for $5,000 for her organization, which brought Courtland to tears.
Mike Stanford, the marketing director for KCEN, said that they like to donate money to worthwhile causes. He and his wife first came to one of the Stand Down events in Killeen last year and were blown away by what they saw and will be coming back every time, he said. When they left last year, after helping at their first event, they were walking on air, he added.
Courtland said that the response she’s seen is that they are grateful that someone cares and wants to listen to them.
“You know it’s just, it’s that level of caring that we don’t have as a society today,” Courtland said. “I mean, everybody’s in their phone, everybody’s doing whatever and it’s… giving of oneself is the best gift you could ever give and that’s how this has grown to be what it is today.”
The next Operation Stand Down Central Texas Stand Down event will be held April 28, 2018.