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Lavagnino Spearheads ‘Stand Down’ Project for Homeless Veterans in Santa Barbara County

Donations and volunteers still needed for services, assistance at event scheduled for the fall at Santa Maria Fairpark

The gap between military service and civilian life can be vast, and some returning veterans in Santa Barbara County are unable to make the transition, finding themselves among the ranks of the homeless.

Steve Lavagnino
Steve Lavagnino

That harsh reality is what prompted Santa Barbara County’s 5th District supervisor, Steve Lavagnino of Santa Maria, to spearhead an effort to offer services many of these homeless veterans desperately need.

The county is planning to host its first “Stand Down” event this fall at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 S. Thornburg St., and Lavagnino will be presenting a report on the event at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Santa Maria.

“Stand down” is a military term for a combat unit that has moved out of the field and back to a base camp for rest and rehabilitation, and the first Stand Down outreach began in San Diego in 1988.

Santa Barbara County’s Stand Down event will be set up like a military base camp, with green MASH tents erected to house service providers.

Basics such as food, clothing and showers will be available for the vets and their families. Also provided will be medical and dental services, employment training, legal counseling and other services.

Veterans Affairs Department staff will have a table at the event to help veterans determine what benefits for which they may be eligible. A homeless veteran court will also be there, and is designed to adjudicate misdemeanors and sentence vets to community service instead of jail time.

One third of the United States’ homeless population have served in the military, according to the Veterans Affairs Department. Locally, a homeless death-review team discovered in a two-year period that 14 percent of the homeless deaths in the county were veterans.

Some 60 percent of the homeless vets contacted during last year’s Common Ground Survey reported having a mental-health diagnosis.

After seeing a 60 Minutes segment on last year’s San Diego Stand Down event, Lavagnino decided to pursue the issue locally.

Last September, community leaders began to meet on the project, and by the beginning of 2012, the group had 70 people involved from more than 50 governmental, nonprofit and military organizations.

The rental fee for the fairpark is being waived for the event, and organizers are in the process of applying for grants to help pay for the project.

Volunteers and supplies are still being sought. Towels, combs, brushes, spray bottles, paper towels, toothpaste, men’s and women’s white T-shirts and socks, food items, room dividers, canopy shelters, office supplies, bath towels and small denomination phone and food gift cards are needed.

To donate or volunteer for the Stand Down event, click here to register at Lavagnino’s website, or call 805.346.8400.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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