Houston's Homeless Veterans 'Stand Down' At Emancipation Park
by: Florian Martin, September 20, 2013 5:09:00 pm
Stand Down for Homeless Veterans events have been around since 1988 when it was first organized in San Diego. Here in Houston, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center along with many other organizations have come together 13 times in the last 20 years in an effort to connect homeless vets with valuable services.
Tom Mitchell is with U.S Vets Texas, which is taking the lead in this year’s event.
“If there’s something they need, it’s here. We have volunteer lawyers, we have medical personnel, we have all types of VA staff. We have people giving haircuts. So, there are all kinds of folks here. And the idea is that the veteran has everything out where they are.”
About 60 different organizations participated in this year’s Stand Down event at Emancipation Park in the Third Ward. Mitchell estimates that about 500 veterans — either homeless or in danger of becoming homeless — are here.
“We reach out and find as many veterans on the streets, in the shelters, under the bridges, wherever they are — homeless veterans — if they’re having to crash on somebody’s couch. Whatever their situation, if they need assistance.”
Mitchell says anywhere between 2,500 and 3,000 veterans in Houston are without a home of their own.
“Just a few years ago we were at 11,000 or 12,000. So we’ve made a big dent in the population. But we’ve still got a ways to go.”
He says although the majority of homeless veterans are from the Vietnam War era, there’s an influx of those who are coming back from the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But there are others, too. People like Steve Mitchell — no relation to Tom — who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1979 to ’81 and attends the Stand Down event every year. He says he’s been on and off the streets for 17 years due to his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“But now I’m ready to put the nail in the wood and pretty much get on track with my AA meetings and participate in recovery — relapse and recover methods on changing my behaviors.”
Steve Mitchell started his recovery about three months ago. He’s currently in transitional housing as part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans and has been offered a minimum wage job at a Goodwill thrift store.
He expects to have his own place by the end of the year and hopes this was the last Stand Down event he needed to go to.