American Legion national staff members helped welcome more than 400 homeless veterans Jan. 22 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington. The annual Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down together more than 70 community agencies, veterans service organizations, and national and local businesses to provide one-stop support and services to homeless veterans in the Washington area; this was the 15th such event.
New to the effort this year was a charitable donation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development employees. In a campaign called "Walk in Their Footsteps", HUD workers collected more than 100 pairs of new shoes and boots to distribute at the event.
Stand down attendees received medical screenings, mental-health consultations, employment support and housing services. Consultative services included ophthalmology, podiatry, infectious diseases, oral health and women's gender-specific services. Haircuts, clothing, sleeping bags, hot meals and comfort items were also provided.
Volunteers from The American Legion's Washington office helped staff the stand down. Ray Spencer, David Michael, Jr. and Queen Baker provided discharge upgrade counseling for veterans. Carl Davis, Mark Walker, Cynthia Mason-Posey and Wanda Tallakson assisted veterans with benefits and claims processing.
Although homelessness among veterans remains a serious problem, the number of vets on the streets is dropping substantially. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced in December that the number of homeless veterans has decreased 18 percent in the past two years (from approximately 131,000 to about 107,000). In a speech at the Legion's 2009 annual convention, Shinseki pledged to end veterans homelessness within five years.