William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 16 Oct 2005 06:01:50 -0400


Sunday, 10/16/05

Homeless veterans get a weekend leave from streets

Staff Writer

Ira Brewer thinks sometimes about ending the 15 years of on-and-off
homelessness he's lived since leaving the Army.

Smoking a crooked cigarette he pulled out of his jeans pocket, Brewer, 47,
says he'll have to quit drinking beer if he wants to stop sleeping on
Nashville's streets and get transitional housing with Operation Stand Down
Nashville Inc., a service organization for homeless veterans.

This weekend, Brewer is just glad for a spot in that tent outside the
National Guard Armory off Sidco Drive and the warm meals he's served during
the organization's 13th annual weekend respite.

Operation Stand Down, along with more than 60 area sponsors, is holding the
gathering for the area's homeless veterans from Friday through today. The
veterans are spending the weekend in a tent city, get basic medical care and
information about available social services and transitional housing. They
also watch TV, play chess and relax in a safe, comfortable environment- if
only for the weekend.

"The people treat us well," Brewer said yesterday. "And it's nice to get off
the street."

Operation Stand Down estimates that about 30% of Nashville's approximately
9,000 homeless people are veterans, and 280 people entered the event for the
weekend. The point is to allow homeless veterans to make their own plans for
the future - to not just feed them but to metaphorically teach them to fish,
said Bill Burleigh, the program's executive director.

"What this basically is on our end is a secure break," Burleigh said.

"Some will come and do nothing more than sleep, eat and watch TV and that's
OK. Others can make medical appointments with the Veterans Administration
hospital, register to vote or get their legal issues straightened out. It's
up to them."

John Brazelton has spent the past 15 months as a client of Operation Stand
Down after nearly 20 years of almost constant homelessness. The retired
serviceman who spent time in all four branches of the military was an
alcoholic until one day last summer when he called Metro police and asked
them to help him get off the street. He went to rehab, entered the program's
residential housing program and celebrated 15 months of sobriety last month.

Brazelton, 54, now drinks black coffee, works as a manager in his house and
credits the program with his turnaround. He has two savings accounts, two
more than he ever dreamed he'd have. He spent the weekend at the respite,
talking with some of his buddies who are still on the streets. Program
workers offer him as an example of the way the program works, and Brazelton
himself is still boggled by the turn his life has taken.

"The confidence this program has put into me, it's just awe- inspiring,"
Brazelton said. "Knocks my socks into the dirt."