The Coast News Group
A volunteer serves a hot meal at last year’s retreat. Free food and lodging are provided to veterans. Photos by Promise Yee
Community Community News Vista

Stand Down steps up for homeless veterans

REGION – The second annual North County Stand Down will provide free medical, dental, legal and employment services to veterans in need this weekend. More than 100 homeless veterans are expected to participate.

Matt Foster, North County Stand Down board chair, said a hand up is needed for veterans who cannot count on their next meal or a place to sleep.

Veterans will check in at Green Oak Ranch in Vista on Jan. 25. They will be assigned sleeping quarters, and have time to take a hot shower and put on gently used clean clothes before their evening meal.

A veteran tries on a new pair of shoes at last year’s Stand Down. More than 30 services will be provided to homeless veterans Jan. 25-28 at Green Oak Ranch in Vista.

The following morning service tents will open. Medical, dental and eye examinations will be performed on site. Prescription eyeglasses will be made and fitted. Veterans who need more extensive dental and medical procedures will be transported to nearby participating doctor offices.

Legal services will include on-site Homeless Court appointments on Friday. Those who are not able to be seen that day will get scheduled court dates to resolve issues and follow up help.

Foster said most legal cases are vagrancy or trespassing charges, for which veterans did not appear in court and a bench warrant has been issued. Volunteer legal experts research the records of veterans who are registered for the retreat and provide on-the-spot service.

Tax assistance, employment development services and counseling will also be offered. More than 30 organizations donate their services.

Extra services added this year include a women’s wellness area and horse therapy. Female veterans can receive spa services and private counseling.

“We want to help these vets,” Foster said.

Additionally, an extra day has been added to the retreat to ensure veterans are checked in and comfortable before services begin. Volunteers will be assigned as hosts to overnight guests to ensure they have everything they need during their stay.

“We want to make it the best experience possible,” Foster said.

The retreat will end with a closing ceremony on Sunday. Foster said veterans will leave with a clean shave, haircut, full duffel bag of clothes and the resources they have gathered.

“They go from being wary to being relaxed,” Foster said. “The best part is seeing the transformation during the event.”

For some the Stand Down is a life-changing experience. Foster said one woman who attended last year is returning this year as a volunteer.

A year ago she was not able to secure veterans benefits owed to her for 20 years. With the help of on-site services the problem was resolved. This year she is driving a Lexus, and about to buy a townhouse in Carlsbad. Foster said she is so happy he did not initially recognize her.

“She spent decades dealing with this stuff, now she’s just happy, it brings tears to your eyes,” Foster said.

Foster said he wishes that one-stop services could be provided to veterans in need year round.

Plans for the annual retreat day began six months ago. Foster credits generous community donors and service partners for making the event possible. He said out-of-pocket costs for the nonprofit to hold the retreat exceed $150,000.

“The community is what makes it happen,” Foster said.

The North County Stand Down will be held Jan. 25 to Jan. 28 at Green Oak Ranch in Vista. For more information, call (866) 535-2038.