The Stand-Down was started in 1988 by Vietnam veterans, for Vietnam veterans, because when they came home they had no place to go and it has grown to what it is now.
The Central Valley Veterans’ Stand-Down (CVVSD) celebrated its 27th year in September. The event is held annually for four days during the third week in September. Numerous services at one location are available and overnight facilities are provided for our homeless veterans including three meals per day, showers, new clothing, personal hygiene bags, sleeping bags, etc.
The event is a collaboration of numerous governmental agencies at all levels. Non-profit organizations, active service members and veteran organizations and private businesses are available to assist all veterans, active service members and their families, homeless or not. The Red Cross is proud to play an active role at this event every year.
The Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program goes all the way back to the establishment of the American Red Cross by Clara Barton in May of 1881. Not only did Barton, the “Angel of the Battlefield,” risk her life tending to soldiers wounded in the Civil War, she wrote letters for them to send to their family and strengthened their morale.
Today’s American Red Cross workers proudly carry on this tradition through the SAF program, and they function as a critical line of communication among the U.S Armed Forces and their families.
The Central Valley Stand-Down, which was hosted Sept. 19th through the 21st, actually started with a stand-up on Monday Sept. 18th, where specific needs for female veterans are met. Sara Brown-Monroe, Red Cross volunteer, said “They come in, they register and we have a social services set up for them including: Red Cross, Veteran Affairs (VA), local women services, military sexual trauma, different kinds of flu shots and a female guest speaker.”
The stand-up is an empowering event where women get resources to encourage them in their family life and in dealing with the transition back to society after their active duty service.
This year was the 27th year of the Central Valley stand-down and the 4th stand-up for the women veterans. “It’s great to be of service to the veterans of any nature of whatever they need. Whether it’s homeless or female veterans they’re there to be served,” said Brown-Monroe.
Female veterans also received a Red Cross reusable shopping bag and feminine products, and were provided a free lunch. After the stand-up for female veterans has ended the stand-down begins the following day on the 19th.
There are more than 80 different service providers onsite throughout the event that offer essential services to local veterans, including: the DMV, the prosecutor’s and public defender’s office and a judge.
“We had about 80 services here inside the building. You know if you needed it, it was there,” said John Schuler, Director of the stand-down and Vice President of CVV.
“We do our court out here. The onsite judge is about giving these guys a hand-up. The judge finds a way to work with them to get them up on their feet and get some pride,” said Schuler.
The judge addresses legal issues that might be a hindrance from getting housing services and getting records cleared. There are other services like San Joaquin Valley Veterans, Counselors and the Red Cross helps with supportive services.
For two full days the veterans can come and take advantage of the services and their legal services so they don’t leave without getting their legal and housing services to avoid being homeless.
Bill Gonzalez from Central Valley Veterans (CVV) was one of the organizers for the event. Gonzalez expressed his feelings about a trend amongst younger veterans that now attend the annual event.
“A lot of younger veterans that are being discharged and are unaware of the available services,” said Gonzalez, “My feeling is it’s hard for them to come back into reality after doing their tours: one, two, three, five tours. It’s hard to come back and get into society again because they have been trained to do things so long the other way and working with them and listening to them trying to help them get their benefits and let them know they do have a problem and they do need the help going to the vet’ center talking to a counselor to get back into this society.”
Gonzalez knows firsthand how important these services are for veterans.
“I didn’t think I had a problem. I had a problem I got myself semi-straight. I went through my counseling. I’ve been going through counseling for the last 14 years. I still go through my combat counseling,” said Gonzalez, “I’m helping the vets and helping my other brothers, the younger ones, to get them established back in life in this society.”
While the stand-down itself is only a few days every year, the work leading up to it is a year-round process with volunteers like Gonzalez coordinating donations, organizations, and community partners. Often times, other local veterans in the community are the first to help.
“We are looking and looking, every day, throughout the year, for other organizations to help us out. I have a lot of companies here in town that I get my produce from that they donate; and they’re vets too, they understand,” said Gonzalez, “A purple heart recipient Korean War vet’ donates the paper products.”
Schuler also added that support for local veterans is a year round process.
“We support veterans every day. We support veterans through emergency electric bills and help pay deposits for rents,” Schuler said, “What we do is work with the homeless veterans and we help get them into a house through housing.”
The CVV helps the veterans by aiding them in the process of getting the resources that are available and not actually giving them the resources. “The motto of our organization has always been ‘A hand-up not a hand-out,’” Schuler said.
“That’s what this about, this is a recovery based program,” Schuler said.
“But Red Cross has always been on-board with us. I can’t say enough about Red Cross. We work with Red Cross all year ‘round. We help them, they help us. Even with all the fires whatever you can do and if you ever need us Red Cross knows how to get a hold of us,” Schuler said.
“I want to thank the Red Cross nurses that volunteered out here all week to run our medical. They ran the medical all week and it was awesome,” Schuler said.
“The Monday before is always crazy. The Tuesday always crazy setting everything up but the Red Cross, I ask them to be there Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. and there they were,” Schuler said.
“And they set up the medical and ran my medical for me the whole time that is a huge help. That’s a huge part of it handling the meds and taking care of things, so Kudos,” Schuler said.
Carlos Anderson was the second in command of the CVV at this year’s stand-down. His hope is that more of the community can see the tremendous need that exists for local veterans.
“I’d like to see more of the community come out and meet some of these vets. Some of them are still homeless. We have a Purple Heart recipient sleeping on the streets and at the end of the day some are being dropped off on a corner somewhere because they don’t have a place to live and this is their getaway,” said Anderson.
“It’s great for a kid to see someone who served in Vietnam. We had a Korean vet out here and we had a 90 something year old that came out and visited for one day that fought in the Korean War. That’s great for the community to see it’s not just the homeless thing this is for everybody to get a chance to meet those individuals too,” said Anderson, “What’s really important to me is if more and more Fresno county people came out.”
Stanley Stinson, a Supply Sergeant with CVV, expressed his gratitude towards the Red Cross and the community for their participation at the annual event.
“We appreciate what Red Cross does for us. These are veterans here that don’t know how to come and ask no one else for help. This the one time of the year where they are trying to show that they need some help,” said Stinson.
“Over the last three years we’ve had less funding and less donations you know a dollar here, a dollar there. But these are our veterans that are afraid to ask because they get turned down. So when they come out here we try to give them something to let them know they haven’t been forgotten,” said Stinson.
It is truly sad when a person could risk so much and receive so little. These Vets should never be homeless, hungry and or thirsty once they return back to theirs and our country.
The CVV and all the other organizations should be commended for taking their time and personal resources to make the vets feel appreciated and not forgotten.
After fighting for this country and the freedom non-vets enjoy so much it is hard to believe that non-vets would be reluctant to help homeless vets on the streets.
These vets risked their life to protect and ensure that American citizens are able to have a sense of comfort. The least a non-vet can do is help when homeless vets ask for a little financial help.
Learn more about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program and find out how you can help. Visit redcross.org/saf.