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Annual San Diego event kicks off weekend of help for homeless vets

By GARY WARTH | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: June 29, 2019

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — Makio Shakur came to Stand Down on Friday morning hoping to get some issues resolved to put his life back on track.

"DMV told me I had a hold on my license," he said, explaining how losing his license had led to him losing his job as a commercial truck driver, leading to homelessness last December.

He already had paid a fine and performed community service following the suspension of his license from an unpaid ticket from 2014, but Shakur said he didn't know why his license was still flagged until Friday, when he found legal help at Stand Down, a three-day event in San Diego to help homeless veterans.

There, he discovered he had outstanding child-support payments he didn't know about, and someone at the event helped get the flag removed on the condition he address the payments.

With that behind him, he planned to visit the DMV on Monday to take a test, get back his license and eventually his job, and overcome homelessness.

In another plus, he stopped by a Veterans Affairs booth and was assigned an attorney to help upgrade his Navy discharge from other-than-honorable to general, making him eligible for VA benefits.

"I appreciate the volunteers here," he said about the assistance he received, which included getting new eye glasses and dental work.

Shakur was one of more than 700 veterans and family members expected to visit Stand Down, created by Veterans Village of San Diego 32 years ago and held each year on San Diego High School's athletic field.

Besides getting connected to a number of service providers, including some who might help find them housing, visitors can pick up new clothes, get shaves, haircuts, food, massages and medical help, including acupuncture.

Not everyone has such a reversal of fortune as Shakur at the event. Chaplain Darcy Pavich, director of Stand Down, said about 10 percent of the people come year after year, possibly just for respite from life on the street, without getting connected to long-term services or housing.

One man named Tom would routinely be the first in line for more than a dozen years, said Pavich, who was a bit concerned that she had not seen him this year.

About 50 percent of the veterans who attended last year were there for their first time, she said. Some people will spend Friday and Saturday night in cots under tents on the grounds, and all will have opportunities to meet with 175 service providers.

Pavich said changes this year included making the area for service providers more open and welcoming, and the dental work now includes fillings and preventive work, while in the past it was limited to emergency extractions.

Many are like Shakur, who might need help with something small that escalated.

"It's so easy for the world around you to fall apart until someone steps in," Pavich said. "We tell them, 'Let's see if we can backtrack and see what went wrong.'"

Lisa Record, vice president of development at Veterans Village of San Diego, said the San Diego Stand Down was the first of its kind and still is the biggest. It has been replicated in about 300 other places over the years.

Khaki tents with cots line the periphery of the grounds, identified through the military alphabet from Alpha to Zulu. Record said each person who checks in will find a case worker, counselor and tent leader inside the one they are assigned.

Marine veteran Hector Rodriguez said he had been homeless for four years but was helped through the VVSD Veterans Rehabilitation Center. He began volunteering as a tent leader two years ago as a way of giving back.

"I let them know I've been in their shoes," about the empathy he shows to fellow veterans at Stand Down.

Likewise, tent leader and Navy veteran Justin Davis also had experienced homelessness, but found help through the VVSD Rehabilitation Center.

"They can see through the way I interact that I'm one of them," he said. "And they can see that I've grown. They're willing to listen to what I have to say."

Jay Furbert, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam and at 68 uses a cane to walk, said he has been homeless off and on since 1996 and has been at Stand Down several times.

Previous stays at Stand Down have not let to long-term help to end his homelessness, but Furbert said he appreciates the clothes and other benefits, and also enjoys the friendship.

Jessica Parks, 56, is married to Army veteran Fred Parks and hopes to get more out of her stay at Stand Down, where the couple has been twice before.

"I want to go back to work, but it's hard to do being homeless," she said.

Clean from alcohol and drugs for four months, she has a positive outlook on her future and was planning to talk to someone with the Veterans Village of San Diego Employment Program this weekend.

"When I first came here, I was amazed," she said about the services. "Why would any veteran be homeless? But they have all these services here. They do so much for veterans in three days that most places don't do in a month."

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