By Augustine Ugalde
Helping homeless veterans of the U.S. Armed forces regain control of their lives is what the Veterans of East Los Angeles College hope to accomplish on Oct. 20.
The fledgling club will help stage the Stand Down event in the San Gabriel Valley. This is where homeless veterans are being sought to take advantage of what the program has to offer.
As part of the event the club is asking administrators, faculty, staff and students to donate a package of new socks, or underwear, or both to its Socks ‘n’ Undies collection drive.
The collected clothing will be distributed at the event to homeless veterans in attendance. This simple act of kindness could go a long way to help homeless veterans feel a sense of dignity, according to VELAC officials.
“It is hurtful for anyone to get a handout,” said Tony Zapata, VELAC assistant program director.
“But if it comes from a fellow veteran, that makes it a little easier. This is all about veterans helping veterans. We want the homeless vets to know that we are here to help our brothers,” said Zapata. Zapata had a hand in naming the collection drive as it was first called the Socks and Underwear drive.
“I thought of calling it the Socks ‘n’ Undies drive because underwear was so bland. I wanted something more catchy, something people would notice, so it became undies,” said Zapata.
Several Southern Californian companies are participating in the event including Goodwill Industries, The East Los Angeles Community Union, the Employment Development Department and Supervisor Don Knabe’s office. Co-founder of VELAC Randy Urena, who also serves as the event’s assistant program director, said that VELAC will collect these basic necessities right up until the time of the event.
“We’re passing-out and posting flyers around campus and have created a Facebook page where people can get information,” said Urena.
The club plans to set up an information booth Oct. 13 to recruit volunteers to work the event and to elicit donations from campus.
The scope of the homeless problem in this country is immense. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, approximately one-third of adult homeless are veterans and many suffer from mental illness, substance and alcohol abuse, and recurring health conditions.
The very nature of homelessness makes it difficult to get an exact count of homeless veterans in the country. The NCHV estimates that more than 100,000 veterans are homeless on any given day and about twice that number experience homelessness during the year. It is also estimated that as many as 1.5 million veterans in the United States are at risk of becoming homeless.
About 56 percent of all homeless veterans are either African American or Latino even though they represent only 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the population of the U.S. The NCHV also reports that most homeless veterans are single, unaffiliated males, while most government agency programs are geared to help families and single women with children who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Many homeless veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from their time in combat and many cite the lack of family and social support networks as a reason for their situation, according to the NCHV. This is one of the driving reasons why VELAC is participating in this event – to provide support to its fellow veterans.
Some of the benefits homeless veterans can receive at the “Stand Down” event are food and drink, housing assistance, medical, dental, vision and mental health care, hygiene and grooming services, and substance abuse services.
The Veterans Administration will provide the bulk of the benefits along with the TELACU Vet Center, Goodwill Southern California and the EDD. The event will take place on Oct. 20 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, 1201 Potrero Avenue, South El Monte, California 91733. For more information or to volunteer, call the Vet Center on campus at (323) 415-5052, or email at email@example.com.