SALT LAKE CITY -- There are tens of thousands of homeless veterans in America, and sometimes we might forget just how many of them are right here in Utah.
The Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System and civic leaders took a big step toward solving the problem Friday.
Homeless veterans got some real help at what’s called the “Stand Down 2013” event at the VA Hospital.
“Stand Down” refers to a military term, when soldiers would leave combat to rest and regroup. Volunteers were literally picking up veterans off the street, and for one day giving them hope for a better future.
Leroy Mulder can't remember the last time he got a haircut.
“I mean, it’s a haircut I know, but it’s been a long time since I got a haircut,” the homeless veteran said.
The Navy veteran has been homeless and struggling to survive on the streets, but on Friday, the event gave Leroy and other veterans a much-needed lift.
“It just slows you down (being homeless), you think about giving up; seriously,” Mulder said. “This gives me hope, and a little bit more respect for my fellow Americans around me. It shows that my country cares about me and about other veterans.”
Stand Down has been held at the Veterans Hospital for the last 12 years. Volunteers picked up veterans in and around Salt Lake City. They picked them up from the shelters and the streets, and they brought them to the VA Hospital, where it looked almost like a scene from a MASH unit.
They are checked in and checked out. They get basic medical attention, which many of these men haven’t had in years. Volunteers hand out jackets, boots and warm clothes. At lunch time they are served a square meal and some hot coffee.
Another room has social services and work leads—services that may just get these men back on solid ground.
Darrel Stage is a living success story. Just a year ago, his life almost ended.
“Just a year ago I tried to kill myself; I came pretty close,” he said. “My wife dropped me off at the emergency room and told me to get help or don’t come home."
But the Department of Veterans Affairs came to his rescue.
“Golly, what a difference a year makes,” Stage said. “They made it possible for guys and gals like me to pick themselves up.”
He now lives in transitional housing and is going to college.
The mayor and other Salt Lake City officials are also committed to getting veterans off the street and have proclaimed November Veterans Housing Month.
“It has taken an incredible outreach from so many people in our community,” said Ralph Becker, Salt Lake City mayor. “To find our veterans, to gain their trust and to bring them into shelter and support.”