SEMINOLE — Homeless veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless are the targets of a Stand Down event Saturday at Bay Pines VA Medical Center.
January's street count of the homeless in Pinellas County by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that a quarter of the 5,887 people who were counted identified themselves as veterans. Officials at Bay Pines hope to help curb those numbers.
"Each year we host a variety of events in the areas this facility serves — including Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, De Soto, Hardee, Charlotte, Lee, Collier and Highlands counties," said Faith E. Belcher, public affairs officer at Bay Pines.
The event is modeled after the Stand Down concept the military used during the Vietnam War. It provided a safe retreat for soldiers returning from combat.
"It's a one-stop shop for veterans to get connected with whatever they need to help them get off the street," she said.
With more veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan during tough economic times, officials want to make sure they are aware of the programs and services available.
"There is certainly a great deal of needs that our veterans are facing," she said. "We want them to be able to take care of the issues that may contribute to them being homeless, like substance abuse."
Officials from a variety of VA and community services will be on hand to assist veterans with treatment options for addiction, mental health and vocational rehabilitation.
"This will be the first time we've held it on our campus," Belcher said. "In 2010, we held our event in conjunction with Project Homeless Connect, which was open to all homeless individuals in Pinellas County."
At Saturday's event, landlords will be on hand to discuss leasing options for potential tenants.
The event will include free flu shots, dental screenings, community and VA housing programs, employment and educational opportunities and legal information and assistance.
Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 893-8874.