This Friday, the Houston community will be showing some much-needed support for a group that both deserves and needs it.
Houston Stand Down 2023, Friday, Sept. 8 at Emancipation Park (3018 Emancipation Ave., Houston, TX 77004) from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. will be the 30th year this event will be held in H-Town. The event focuses on connecting vets, especially homeless vets, to food, shelter, clothing, health screenings and VA Social Security benefits counseling.
“All Veterans are encouraged to attend,” said the event’s chairperson Emily Winfield. “However, we want to really encourage unhoused or homeless Veterans to take advantage of the resources that will be present onsite to help with improving quality of life.’
And the resources that will be available are plenty.
“Currently, we have 76 Veteran Services Organizations. They’ll be providing services, everything from dealing with food insecurities to employment, housing, which is always a big thing with Stand Down,” said Jamay Fishback of Career Gear Houston and co-chair of Houston Stand Down 2023.
Fishback comes from a family of veterans and knows the transition back into society looks different for each vet.
“Just looking at the transition my father made coming out of Vietnam to my son as a Marine coming out a couple of years ago – totally different transitions,” said Fishback during a KPRC interview. She added that this year’s Houston Stand Down is putting a big focus on making sure participants once again feel a sense of camaraderie; a need made even greater by the fact veterans often feel ignored and forgotten.
Despite the general public’s professed love affair with the men and women who served this country in the many branches of the armed services, veterans catch hell in terms of access, or lack thereof, to healthcare and other services. The Republican Party, the supposed party of military patriotism, has repeatedly over the past decades voted against bills that would put real dollars of support behind their words. One of the shameful outcomes of this lack of support is the rate of veteran homelessness, with Black vets bearing the brunt of this reality.
Jack Tsai, research director for the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, says a concerted national effort has helped reduce the number of veterans experiencing homelessness by half since 2010, according to the federal homeless census.
And according to an article by Maya Srikrishnan for the Center for Public Integrity, “Black veterans remain overrepresented among that population, a reflection of long-standing discrimination that impacts everything from the racial wealth gap to the ability to find a job. Black people made up around 12% of active-duty military personnel in 2018, but 33% of the homeless veteran population.”
Stand Down started in 1988 with one event and has grown to over 200 nationwide.
“This is the 30th year we come together as a on- stop-shop to provide all resources veterans may need to improve their quality of life. This will be advocation at its finest, along with some entertainment and an opportunity for all veterans, the VA and the community to stand together empowering veterans,” shared Winfield.
Here in the Bayou City the annual event is hosted by the City of Houston’s Office of Veterans Affairs, the local VA Hospital and Career Gear with support from Texas Veterans Commission, Lone Star Legal Aid, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, Greater Houston Community Foundation, Legal Services Corporation, Equal Justice Works, Night Court (Houston’s All Lawyer Charity Show) and many more community supporters of our nation’s heroes.
“The face of the veteran is ever-evolving. It’s always changing. It’s not always what we think of, under the bridge all the time. It’s those that are unhoused, those who have gone through a divorce, had some financial setbacks, house-surfing,” said Dr. LaShondra Jones of the Mayor’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs and co-chair of Houston Stand Down 2023. “Whatever the situation is we are there to help. Anyone who is unhoused or facing some type of difficulty, there are plenty of resources to help in any way that we can.”
At the Houston Stand Down – veterans can expect to receive haircuts, employment aid, legal aid, headshots for employment purposes, enrollment and services from the Veterans Health Administration as well as benefits information from the Houston Regional Office of the Veterans Benefits Administration, help in financial literacy, introduction to health and wellness activities like yoga and more, in addition to housing assistance.
This year, there will also be a Veterans 4-on-4 basketball tournament, with sign-up at noon, and games kicking off at 2 p.m.
The event’s chairperson, Winfield, has been working up close and personal with veterans for nearly a decade. She reflected on what inspired her to get involved with Houston Stand Down.
“For me, I’ve been at the VA for eight years, so just working with the veterans and our veterans who have come out and gone through mental health, severe drug use or different things, just helping them reconnect to society is the drive,” said Winfield. “All the services that the VA provides, we’ll have them out there for attendees.”