HUDSON — When Brian Anderson moved to Pasco County to study social work at Saint Leo University, he was floored by the number of homeless people in the area. In 2012, the state reported an estimated 4,502 homeless people in Pasco, the second-highest population of any county in Florida. Anderson, a former Green Beret and 10-year Army veteran, knew he had to help.
"When I looked at those numbers, it really became a concern for me," Anderson said. "I never thought I was going to work with homeless. I never thought I was going to necessarily work with veterans. I couldn't let my brothers and sisters in arms fall to the wayside like that."
Anderson got involved in a first-time event last year called the Pasco County Stand Down. This year, he's leading it as coordinator.
Along with Patti Templeton of Generations Christian Church's nonprofit organization, One Community Now, Anderson is gearing up to host the second Stand Down on Friday and Saturday to benefit homeless and at-risk veterans — those struggling with addiction or alcoholism or who are staying in someone else's home — from Pasco, Hernando, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
According to organizers, Stand Down events began in 1988, and now there are 200 throughout the country.
"Stand Downs are meant to help with the reintegration process," Anderson said. "A veteran goes into the military, and they adopt this military identity, and then afterward … they get out, and there's not a basic training to become a civilian again."
Along with helping veterans acclimate to life as a civilian, the event aims to create a one-stop shop by assembling services for veterans all in one place. Many veterans don't know what their benefits are or are unable to cut through the red tape, Anderson says.
The 24-hour, overnight event provides transportation for preregistered veterans to Veterans Memorial Park and tents to sleep in. An expected 300 participants will get free access to hot meals for two days, showers, clothes, haircuts, court services and legal counseling, medical and mental health services, dental cleanings and examinations, housing vouchers, state photo identification cards, employment counseling, personal hygiene kits, women's and children's services, live entertainment and more. There also will be Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery meetings.
Today is the last day for veterans to ensure guaranteed transportation by preregistering. Veterans are still welcome to attend the event without preregistration. Civilians are invited to donate or attend as volunteers.
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.