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Program that helps veterans one at a time makes stop in NC

By NANCY MCLAUGHLIN | News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. | Published: September 26, 2015

GREENSBORO (Tribune News Service) — By 10 a.m., Roger Blackburn, like many of the veterans moving from table to table, had filled two bags with socks and other giveaway items, and had talked to people who normally would have required an appointment.

Or charged money to see.

“I just talked to the Legal Aid lady and she told me what to do about it,” said Blackburn, a formerly homeless U.S. Army veteran who said he was having a problem with a landlord.

Blackburn was among hundreds of veterans Friday at the Homeless Veteran Stand Down 2015 at Westover Church. This community-based intervention program takes place about 20 times each year across the country, and is designed to provide access to resources they need to address problems and rebuild their lives.

The Greensboro event was organized by the regional Veterans Administration office and The Servant Center, which provides housing and other services for homeless veterans.

Other on-site agencies included Habitat for Humanity, the Internal Revenue Service and the local Housing and Urban Development Office.

The day started out with a breakfast, but quickly moved to one-on-one sit downs with representatives from the various agencies, including those offering help with substance abuse and finding jobs. Participants got help signing up for benefits for which they qualify — if they fill out the paperwork.

“Homeless or near homeless, male or female, don’t care where or when they served — that’s someone who took time out of their lives to serve this country and to defend our freedom,” said Archie Barrow, a U.S. Army veteran and director of veterans employment services in the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“This is just one way to thank them for their service.”

Special areas were set aside for mental health and suicide prevention services. A barber had a long line of people awaiting a free haircut. Walk-up eye exams and flu shots were also available.

“I’ve heard everything from, ‘I don’t know where to start’ to ‘I heard this from a neighbor and I don’t know if it’s true,’ ” said Cheryl Rawls, the director of the Winston-Salem VA Regional Office, as she walked through the crowd directing people.

Rawls said the idea is to help as many people as possible. Behind her were at least several dozen people just working to connect veterans with housing.

“We don’t want to leave anyone out there in the struggle by themselves,” Rawls said. “They deserve better than that.”

In the crowd were veterans of the recent conflicts in the Middle East, and others who had served in Vietnam.

“I was hoping to walk away with a lot of things I’ve deserved or that I should have gotten in the past,” said Anthony John German, who served in Vietnam and rode to Greensboro with a bus of veterans from Charlotte.

He was in a line checking on benefits.

Nearby were several near-homeless female veterans who spoke of the fear of being on the street.

“A lot of us need help,” said one, while her friend nodded.

Sometimes a free dental clinic is attached. This year the group handed out cards to get the veterans in a dental chair for a clinic later this fall.

Michael Dorman’s group, Military Missions in Action, had items the men and women could use right away, including clothing, hygiene kits and cases of tennis shoes.

“I know we can’t solve the homeless problem,” said Dorman, who served in the Coast Guard. “But we can make them as comfortable as we can in the conditions they now live in.”

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©2015 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)
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