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County Holds A Stand Down To Stand Up For Homeless Vets

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Nearly 500 veterans showed up at the VFW post in west Akron  this week for Summit County's annual "stand down.

The event is designed to help veteran in need. ML Schultze of member station WKSU in Kent reports.

Hundreds of men – and a few women – take their place in line at the front of the brick hall. Each is awaiting their “shepherd” – the men and women in red T-shirts there—like Dale Luzater— to help each vet navigate an auditorium packed with tables … and tables loaded with tooth brushes, duffel bags and just about everything else to get through day-to-day life.

“Male, female, homeless, needy veterans. It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up. Trying to get them ready for winter. Over in this corner, we’re giving out heavy coats. Lot of cold weather underwear, military stuff. The Goodwill gives us $35 vouchers.”

Down a hallway is a temporary barber shop, and racks of winter clothes.

Some of the tables are relatively empty – offering instead legal advice to try to clear up old court warrants, and deal with civil and child custody issues.

Summit County’s been doing the stand downs for nine years. They’re the brain child of Laura Dunlap, a Korean War vet. She says the term, stand down, was borrowed from the military – deliberately.

“When we were in service and the troops would come back from the front, they would need to get themselves together again. So … they had medical there, clothes, showers. You know, good old showers and dry socks and that kind of thing – and (help) get us together. And that’s what we do here.”
Dunlap says word about the day is spread through homeless volunteers, vets groups and other outreach efforts. She says one of the big tasks is getting vets to recognize themselves as such. Many feel if they didn’t serve in combat, they didn’t serve.

George Baker is co-chairing this year’s stand down. He’s the retired director of the Summit County Veterans Service Commission. He says better than one-in-10 county residents have served in the military. And he says the county has plenty of agencies and individuals who step in for the stand downs.

“Not every man and woman will raise their right hand and swear to God to die and defend this country. I think veterans have a special place in my heart and a lot of people’s hearts because of the sacrifices some have made and some are continuing to make.”

Donald Lykes, who served in the late 1970s in field artillery in Oklahoma and Germany, breaks into an easy grin as he talks in the parking lot with some other vets. Ostensibly, he came for a coat.

“But the thing I really needed was to see my friends here. I always feel safe around veterans. And so this is a safe place for me. So more than what they gave me in there, is what I got on the inside and what I can take away with me.”

The first stand down drew about 200 vets – only a handful were women. This day, the organizers expect to see as many as 50 women, as they too, find the adjustment to civilian life more difficult than some imagined. 

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