Reymundo Cedillos is doing some shopping at what looks like a big, open air market in Ventura. There are tables full of everything from underwear and socks to personal items like toothbrushes. The price is right. Everything is free.
The hundreds of people picking out items here are homeless veterans.
The homeless Oxnard man is at the 2017 Ventura County Stand Down, a three day, two night event which provides homeless veterans on the Central and South Coasts with clothing, food, medical care, and a safe place to stay for a few nights. Perhaps most importantly though, it connects them with social services.
The event at the California National Guard Army in Ventura is the work of Claire Hope, who created the event in Ventura County 25 years ago. Hope says the idea is to help veterans get back on their feet. Many of them are dealing with issues like PTSD, substance abuse, and chronic mental illness. Hope says by providing a one stop place for veterans to get everything from a haircut to social service workers, they’ve been able to get these veterans help, and move some of them off the streets and into housing.
In the Armory’s main warehouse building, there are rows of tables staffed by various social service agencies. Mike McManus, who’s Ventura County’s Veterans Services Officer, says his team tries to make sure veterans know what kind of help is available, and how they can connect with it.
There’s an on-site court, so veterans with pending citations can work to get their records cleared. There’s even an on-site dentist’s office, with three chairs staffed by volunteers. Hundreds of volunteers staff the stand-down event.
John Carpenter of Ventura is one of the veterans being helped by the stand down event. As he gets a free haircut, he says he’s been living on the streets of Ventura for about three years. Carpenter says he wants to get into an apartment, and has been offered financial aid, but says there is a waiting list for units in the area. He hasn’t been able to get into one.
The Air Force veteran’s wheelchair sits next to him, as a volunteer cuts his hair, and trims his beard. The wheelchair is piled high with clothes and personal items he’s received at the stand down. Carpenter says he’s grateful for all the help, but admits the end of it brings home the painful reality that at least for now, he’ll be back living on the streets of Ventura.