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Lavagnino’s ‘Stand Down’ Project for Homeless Vets Earns Praise from County Supervisors

Public commenters also speak out in support of the effort, scheduled for Oct. 13 at the Santa Maria Fairpark

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to support a daylong event set for later this year to reach out to homeless veterans in the county.

The county is planning to host its first “Stand Down” event on Oct. 13 at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 S. Thornburg St., and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino is spearheading the local effort.

“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. As every veteran arrives, each will be greeted by an airman from Vandenberg Air Force Base, who will guide them through the tents.

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

Staff from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be on hand at the event to help veterans determine benefits for which they may be eligible. A homeless veteran court will also be available, and is designed to adjudicate misdemeanors and sentence vets to community service instead of jail time.

On Tuesday, a handful of public commenters spoke out in support of the event, including Vietnam War veteran Timothy Alvarez.

He said that when he returned to the South Coast after his service decades ago, people’s seemed ungrateful. He attended a Stand Down event in 1998, and “that was the first time I had been told ‘welcome home’ after all those years,” he said. Veterans “don’t want a hand out, they just want a helping hand.”

Department of Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services employee Amy Lopez said that for the past two years, the department has been working with a veteran treatment court in Santa Maria.

“We’ve seen an influx of vets come into our justice system,” she said. “They’re struggling to survive.”

ADMHS is just one of the dozens of organizations that will be offering services at the event.

Lavagnino said he wants to make Stand Down an annual event, and one not to be confined to his constituents.

“I would like this to go out to all of the districts,” he said.

Though the event didn’t require approval from the Board of Supervisors, Lavagnino brought it forward to secure support because it would use some staff time to coordinate. The rental fee for the Santa Maria Fairpark is being waived for the event, and organizers are in the process of applying for grants to help pay for the project.

Though he’s not a veteran himself, Lavagnino said “it was instilled in me from an early age to show them honor.”

The supervisors commended him for the effort, and Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who is a veteran, encouraged the county to continue to explore ways to support veterans throughout the year.

“I think the bigger question, for us, is what can we do on an ongoing basis?” he said.

As the county moves into budget talks for the year, “we cannot forget this conversation,” Supervisor Janet Wolf said, adding that she has heard talk of closing the VA’s office in Santa Barbara, as was done in Lompoc, and she would like to revisit that in discussions this year.

Volunteers and supplies are still being sought for the event. 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 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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