Where ‘stand down’ means a ‘hand up’

Jacob Aguiar, Special to the Reporter
Aug. 28, 2014

More than 700 veterans took part in the annual Massachusetts “Stand Down” event  held last Friday at the IBEW Local 103 hall on Freeport Street.

The event is organized by the US Veterans Administration and Volunteers for America and focuses on assisting homeless veterans and those who are at risk of becoming homeless. 

Some 80 vendors were present at this years “Stand Down” where active duty National Guardsmen assembled the barracks style tents, assisted with security, and escorted veterans around the grounds. 

“It feels like the service, feels like it, looks like it,” said Tony Martin, who served in the Coast Guard, Army, and Air National  Guard. It is not uncommon to what we may have been through in boot camp or in the field. It is sort of what vets are used to, so that is good.”

Veterans received information about the benefits and different housing options available to them and legal information was provided by the attorney general’s office. The veterans could also renew their licenses and Mass ID’s free of charge, receive eye, physical and dental examinations, and get their hair and nails trimmed.

“We want this be one stop shopping” said Gloria Vieira, a Veterans Administration organizer. “ We have been working on this event for the last six months.” Vieira shared responsibilities with Katie Paquin, a social worker in the VA’s homeless department. 

“It is really exciting to have people come, get connected, and learn about what they are eligible for,” said Paquin. “A lot of vets don’t’ know what services they are eligible for or how apply for them, which is why this event is so nice. They can show up and we will take them through the process. It is a really great day.” 

Said Martin: “I am very impressed. The staff and volunteers are very friendly and they have tried their best to make it easy for us. Because I am diabetic the toe nail trimming was especially helpful to me as well as the dental care I received.”

Free food and clothing were also available to the veterans. 

“We consider this a hand up not, a hand out,” said Laurie Saren of Attleborogh. She and her husband work on the “Stand Down” organizing committee for the VA  “Stand Down is a military term,” she noted. “It means a soldier can leave a combat zone go and catch a breather and re-supply. We call this a ‘stand down’ because it is just that, a chance to  catch a breather and get a hand up.”

Jon Terry, an outreach specialist in supportive services for veteran families at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, represented one of the many housing assistance organizations at the event. “We meet with individual veterans and figure out what the best housing option is for them, whether it is permanent supportive housing through the  housing authority or a rapid re-housing program, or just finding them assistance with up front costs.” 

“I hit a lot of resources that I needed,” said Chris Falasca, who was a sergeant in the Army and heavy equipment operator. “This is my first year coming to the Stand Down, I have been out of the service for 14 years. Today I realized that there is a lot more housing advocates and employment opportunities out there. Right now I am unemployed and living in treatment facilities. Here, I met people that will help with my resumes and schooling. It was really good. I got a lot done in one day.”