Around 200 homeless veterans, from war eras spanning Korea to the current conflicts, converged on the North Florida Fairgrounds in Tallahassee from April 6 - 8 for a sprawling three-day "homeless stand down" that gave area homeless veterans three cooked meals daily, a warm place to sleep and a shower, medical care, and many more vital services.
The American Legion's Department of Florida, Legionnaires from Florida and representatives from the organization's national staff were on hand to help cook meals, provide benefits processing and job placement assistance, and offer the kind of boots-on-the-ground outreach that is crucial in getting homeless veterans off the streets.
"Everyone helped out. Posts were out there cooking, participating, doing whatever they had to do," Department of Florida Commander Al "Gunner" Dudley said.
The event was coordinated by the Florida Veterans Foundation, which has put on 20 similar stand downs this year. The weekend's outing - the first three-day stand down of the year - formed an encampment of heated tents where a variety of services, sleeping arrangements, grooming necessities and aid could be obtained. In all, more than 100 service providers and organizations were on hand, offering things like minor legal advice, job placement assistance, haircuts and eye exams.
The Department of Florida maintains a significant presence at each event, offering the help of its service officers and Legionnaires who are willing to lend a hand.
This most recent stand down gave homeless veterans a chance to stay for three days and "graduate" from the festivities. Though, veterans were still free to come and go and take advantage of the services, food and amenities as necessary.
"It's always great. I know we served more than 200, but a lot of them came and went for the day and then came back the next day." Dudley said.
Events like the stand down are crucial to solve a homeless veterans problem that is improving but still needs a lot of attention, Dudley said.
"We think we're making headway here because throughout the state (homeless veterans) are getting the transitional housing," Dudley said. "We are getting some good results, but there's still work to be done."