There are about 1,000 homeless veterans on the streets of Chicago on any given night, according to Volunteers of America, Illinois.
Forest Park’s Vet Center (1515 S. Harlem Ave.) teams up with other veteran assistance groups and the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs twice a year for a “Standdown” which brings services, clothing and food to homeless vets.
“Surviving by their wits, the homeless rely on limited rations under extreme conditions,” said Standdown organizers. “Like a soldier, a homeless person’s experience is both dangerous and debilitating.”
This Friday, Dec. 13, starting at 8 a.m. local volunteers and personnel from the Vet Center and other veteran organizations will gather at the Northwest Armory, 1551 N. Kedzie in Chicago.
The concept of a Standdown comes from the military practice of removing exhausted combat units from the field to a place of safety where they can rest and recuperate.
“Chicago area homeless veterans represent about 30 percent of the homeless in our city,” said Vet Center Team Leader Jeanne Douglas in a press release.
Vets are served a meal and given winter clothing. Representatives from the VA regional office and VA hospital system are available for medical referrals and to check veteran benefits. Vets can apply for social security and unemployment benefits.
Veterans can also get a flu shot, lunch and a haircut. Women’s services are also available.
The Standdown provides a respite from the rigors of life on the street and gives homeless vets a chance to develop friendships and bonding. Organizers also hope to help Chicago homeless vets obtain permanent housing and establish a source of income either through employment or benefits. Organizers also want to help stabilize vets’ health conditions, especially as winter is starting. Three hundred volunteers help at the Standdown, Douglas said.
The Forest Park Vet Center is staffed by therapists, psychologists, social workers and licensed counselors. They average about 300 visits per week and have had 14,500 clients come through their doors. The center offers job counseling and advises veterans on how to access their VA benefits, in addition to counseling post-traumatic stress disorder victims.
To volunteer, please call Chicago Standdown organizer Trent Ward (312) 569-6109.