KINGMAN - When the Jerry Ambrose Veterans Council holds the Fourth Annual Tri-State Veterans Stand Down Friday and Saturday in Bullhead City, Pat Farrell believes two seemingly contradictory things will occur. More veterans in need will take part in the two-day event than ever before - and fewer of them will be homeless than ever before.
"We're expecting between 1,200 and 1,300 or more," said Farrell, president of the Mohave County-based Veterans Council, part of the Arizona Veterans Stand Down Alliance. "And that's not counting the ones we already see consistently."
Farrell said there are a number of people from both the public and private sector who can be credited with the success of the outreach program. "There's a great group of people involved," he said. "We're networking and there's been just a fantastic improvement in services for veterans."
Meanwhile, Dave Wolf, manager of Mohave County Housing & Community Revitalization, said the 2016 point in time survey of the county's homeless population that was taken Jan. 26 yielded more good news: of 237 surveys homeless people completed that day, 53 were veterans. That's down from the 78 veterans counted in the 2015 survey that featured 254 homeless.
Wolf made it clear there are undoubtedly more homeless people than were counted. The point in time survey provides a snapshot of the homeless, giving officials a number they can use to extrapolate a more accurate percentage. In any event, the number of homeless veterans fell from more than 30 percent to more than 22 percent over the past 12 months.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to raise up the homeless. Wolf made it clear the focus is on veterans because that's the demographic officials at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development want to focus on, he said.
There are a number of public and private agencies involved in the effort, along with churches and residents who want to help veterans.
"We use a hands-up approach," said Farrell, a veteran of the U.S. Navy. "If they don't want to help themselves, we refer them to different groups."
Farrell said the hand up rather than a handout does more to make a positive difference in a person's life.
"I think we're about to turn the corner. There's fewer homeless vets than there were before and it's because of all the different people and groups involved," he said. "For years we couldn't do a good PIT (point in time) survey. Now, with more volunteers, we get better numbers."
And veterans that are in need are being reached. Farrell said he handed out 4,500 business-size cards with this year's stand down information printed on them and signs were put up "anywhere we were allowed to put them up."
Outreach pays off
Farrell said the veterans courts in Kingman and Lake Havasu City are making resources available to at-risk veterans, many who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless.
"Everything is starting to coalesce," he said. "I get the credit, but it's not me. We've got a great group of people throughout the county."
He singled out the late Mohave County Recorder Carol Meier, who died earlier this month.
"Carol knew how to get things done," said Farrell. "We have a lot of people like that."
The stand down
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, veterans from Mohave County and Laughlin can catch a bus to Bullhead City where they can get help with a wide range of issues, from housing assistance and homeless resources, employment, VA benefits, enrollment, and medical and mental health, legal assistance, family services, women's resources, dental and eye care supplies, help with driver's licenses, military records, voter registration and other assistance. That includes spiritual care through chaplains, counseling and support groups, child support, pet supplies provided by For the Love of Paws - and vaccinations for pets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday - clothing provided by Goodwill Industries and the Department of Defense, showers and haircuts, hygiene supplies and food.
But the number one service they require is help with is Social Security, said Farrell. Disability benefits and pensions, he said, are among the key problems addressed at the stand down.
"There's a whole lot of things going on with Social Security," he said. Veterans Affairs also provides "a ton of services," he said. "They do triage." Much of that has to do with a veterans' retirement benefits, which aren't always in the correct amount.
The number of HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) vouchers have increased from 25 to 91 in recent years. "Things are starting to roll," said Farrell, and while the local, state and federal public agencies are doing great things for veterans, Farrell said the "meat and potatoes" of the endeavor is provided by volunteers.
"They take care of everything," he said. "They care and they are great. That's a Tony the Tiger great. They care about our veterans and their families."
Farrell said a person complained to him that veterans are getting all the attention from homeless advocates. He acknowledges that might be the case for the time being, but the one-time sailor also had this to say: "A rising tide lifts all ships."
Stand Down Bus Schedule
Transportation is available to the Tri-State Veterans Stand Down from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Bullhead City Community Park and Chamber of Commerce, 1251 Highway 95.
Catch a ride here:
3049 Sycamore Ave.
Pickup is 7 a.m.
St. Vincent DePaul
218 E. Beale Street
Pickup is 7:15 a.m.
The Whatever Shoppe
4175 Highway 68
Pickup is 7:40 a.m.