FORT WALTON BEACH — More than 150 veterans lined the Striving for Perfection Ministries building early Friday in expectation of the Homeless Veterans Stand Down.
For the 10th year, the Stand Down has offered homeless veterans hot meals, medical and dental care, clothing, bedding and Department of Veterans Affairs services.
“This event provides veterans with various services they need,” said Bill Van Hoesen with the Association of the U.S. Army, Emerald Coast Chapter. “We’re giving away bicycles, offering the veterans haircuts and we also have veterinary services for their pets.”
Each veteran was assigned one of 285 volunteers to assist and guide them through the event. The homeless people were given backpacks to fill with jackets, boots, socks, bedding, books and more.
In addition to daily needs, representatives from CareerSource and the VA were on hand to help find employment and permanent housing for the homeless vets.
New this year was HIV testing from the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County.
Army veteran Jonathan Anthony said that without the Stand Down, many homeless veterans might not have access to the medical care they need.
“I’m down here today to get looked at for my teeth,” Anthony said. “They have a great program here for people who need help, who need some services. My teeth have been killing me and dental is very expensive.”
The Stand Down concept dates back to the Vietnam War, when troops would receive clean uniforms, a hot meal, medical and dental care, and letters from secure base camps.
The first Homeless Veterans Stand Down came to Fort Walton Beach through the efforts of Okaloosa County Judge T. Patterson Maney and Cathy Magnuson.
Maney attended Friday’s event the event and offered misdemeanor trials for any homeless veterans who had accumulated charges.
Other visitors, including Army veteran Rick Cason, said the Stand Down offers them an opportunity to prepare for winter nights outdoors.
“I’m getting me some winter stuff so I can sleep outdoors in case I have to,” Cason said. “I want to stay warm because it might be a cold one this winter.”
To end the event, the vets sat down together for a hot meal of spaghetti, meat sauce and garlic bread.
Anthony said although it was his first time to attend the Stand Down, it definitely will not be his last.
“They provide a lot of services we wouldn’t be able to get,” he said. “I’m very appreciative.”