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Crestview to host Stand Down to help homeless veterans

Brian Hughes | Special to the News Bulletin

CRESTVIEW — Homeless U.S. military veterans will find a variety of assistance — including medical screenings, inoculations, clothing, toiletries and free bicycles — at the 2020 Okaloosa-Walton Homeless Veterans Stand Down.

The event is 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Crestview Community Center, 1446 Commerce Drive, Crestview.

Organizers meet Sept. 1 at the Crestview Public Library to plan for the Nov. 6 Okaloosa-Walton Homeless veterans Stand Down.

“It’s a one-stop shop for veterans who are homeless and need help,” said Crestview AmVets Post 35 Second Vice Commander Liz Westby.

Westby is one of the event’s coordinators, with Okaloosa County residential appraiser Don Cleveland and the group’s leader, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dennis Krebs.

She explained the meaning of a “stand down” for the non-military affiliates among organizers who met at the Crestview Public Library for a Sept. 1 planning meeting.

“In the military, if they identify a problem, everything stops,” she said. “They ‘stand down’ until the problem is resolved.”

Leaders of the 2020 Okaloosa-Walton Homeless Veterans Stand Down conduct an event planning meeting Sept. 1 in Crestview. From left are retired CMSgt. Dennis Krebs, Okaloosa County Residential Property Appraiser Don Cleveland and Crestview AmVets Post 35 Second Vice Commander Liz Westby.

For homeless veterans, many of whom are in the Crestview and North Okaloosa County area, the problems are many, organizers said. Active duty members of the military can learn from them to avoid making the same mistakes, and volunteering at the stand down is a good way to do so.

“Some of our guests at our stand downs get into a hole, whether from addiction, divorce or whatever,” Krebs said. “Our young airmen need to hear that.”

Among the challenges homeless vets face are minor brushes with the law, most frequently for trespassing, Westby said. Having a legal problem often causes the veterans to shy away from seeking needed assistance.

“We’ll have a veterans’ court there for minor infractions,” Westby said, complete with a judge to help clear a vet’s record of some outstanding legal issues that otherwise pose no threat to the community.

Veterans must provide proof of eligibility such as a Veterans Administration card, military ID, or DD Form 214 at the stand down to obtain services, which include:

• Flu, tetanus and pneumonia inoculations.

• Mental health screenings.

• Dental screenings.

• Health, comfort and toiletry items.

• Florida Department of Veterans Affairs services.

• Haircuts.

• Veterans court.

• VA clothing, boots and blankets.

• Employment and job search services.

• A nourishing meal.

• Veterinary services (8:30-11:30 a.m. only).

• Bicycles.

• Veterans Administration housing assistance.

• VA benefits assistance.

• County transit passes (to facilitate attending doctor’s appointments, shopping, etc.).

To assure attendees don’t just pick up freebies and leave, they will be required to visit several mandatory services, including career services and health screenings, organizers said.

Attendees must wear face masks and observe social distancing as precautions against COVID-19, and the Crestview Community Center will prove an excellent location for the latter, Krebs said, calling it “a great venue.”

They referred to the center's ability to accommodate the nearly three dozen participants and services, including an indoor guarded backpack corral so veterans needn’t carry their belongings around as they visit the different services.

Donations including food, clothes and toiletries not picked up during the event benefit other services for the homeless or needy.

“Any surplus goes to the community,” Krebs said. “None of this stuff is going to waste. It doesn’t do anybody any good if it sits on a shelf for a year” until the 2021 stand down.

Veterans, the organizers said, aren’t the only ones who benefit from the stand down.

“It’s a very moving event,” he said, “Our volunteers probably get more out of it than our guests.”

WANT TO HELP?

Community organizations are welcome to offer volunteers for the 2020 Homeless Veterans Stand Down. Contact CMSgt. Dennis Krebs at dnomadchief@aol.com for information about volunteering and making donations. The next organizing meeting is 11 a.m. Oct. 6 at the Crestview Public Library, Commerce Drive behind the post office.

Brian Hughes is the City of Crestview Public Information Officer.