[Hpn] San Diego, CA - Homeless veterans get break from life on streets - San
Diego Union-Tribune - July 15, 2002
H. C. Covington
H. C. Covington" <email@example.com
Tue, 16 Jul 2002 20:14:33 -0500
Homeless veterans get break from life on streets
The end of the Vietnam War didn't offer Rodney Fontes any peace.
"They want to get off the streets, but there's no place for them,"
By Daniel J. Chacón - San Diego Union-Tribune - July 15, 2002
It only triggered the beginning of more wars. A war at home. A war in his
head. Wars that he's been fighting – and losing – his entire adult life.
"I just went with the flow; little did I know that I was headed for some
major wrecks," the 51-year-old said yesterday.
Addicted to booze and drugs, Fontes decided to turn his life around last
year at Stand Down, a three-day summertime event where homeless veterans
are invited to receive food, medical care and other services for free.
Yesterday marked the last day of the 15th annual event, held in the upper
athletic field of San Diego High School at the foot of Balboa Park. More
than 700 veterans and nearly 1,800 volunteers attended the gathering. The
program, started in San Diego in 1988, now is staged in more than 200
cities across the country.
Stand Down – a military term that refers to a period when troops stop their
normal operations, relax and clean up – provides homeless veterans and
their families a safe place to sleep and seek help to change their lives.
"From that point on, it's been a green light," said Fontes, who has been
sober since last year. "I'm finally falling in love with life now."
Stand Down aims to provide homeless veterans a respite from street life.
For three days, they get hot meals; clean clothes; medical, dental and
legal services; referrals to drug and alcohol treatment programs; and haircuts.
"It's a good deed," said Shahnaz Shemiran, a cosmetology student at City
College who averaged 30 haircuts a day during the event. "If you can help,
Phil Landis, board chairman of Vietnam Veterans of San Diego, which
sponsored the event, said the saddest part is watching the veterans leave.
He said many need drug and alcohol treatment, but there aren't enough beds.
"They want to get off the streets, but there's no place for them," he said.
"That, my friend, will tear your heart apart."
About 40 percent of San Diego's homeless population are veterans, he said.
In the United States, there are more than 275,000 ex-military personnel who
live on the streets, according to the National Coalition for Homeless
Veterans, which will host its two-day national conference in San Diego
Bernice Foster, 51, a veteran who used to be homeless, said the situation
for homeless veterans is dire, but events like Stand Down raise awareness.
"This place gives homeless veterans, male or female, a chance," she said.
"It means life. It means a new beginning. It means opportunity and a chance
to survive in a very, very cruel place. It also means hope."
For Fontes, who is recovering from drugs, it means finally finding peace.
"I don't know when I'm going to clock out of this world, so that's why I
gotta enjoy it the best I can," he said. "I'm still healing. My main focus
right now is my recovery. Now all I have to do is keep it one day at a time."
Daniel Chacon: (760) 752-6731; firstname.lastname@example.org
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