Pictured on stage: Col. Colmenares, Mayor Tomas P.Regalado, Paul M. Russo, Col. Sanchez and other dignataries during the three day “Stand Down” at Robert King Park.
By Jimmie Davis, Jr.
During combat missions military personnel are given orders to “Stand Down” when it’s no longer required to fire upon the enemy.
After returning home some of them unfortunately find themselves living in abject poverty and must “Stand Down.”
Well that’s what occurred from May 1 through 3 at Robert King Park located at 7025 West Flagler in Miami, Fla.
It’s indicative that veterans not only here in Miami but all over the nation disengage them-selves from the evil vices (unemployment, divorce, drugs or alcohol) that led them to become homeless.
“We had 267 veterans registered this weekend for our three day stand down event,” said Colonel Tony Colmenares USMC (Ret.), College-Wide Director of Veteran and Military Services at Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus. “Over 30 got placed into housing.”
The Stand Down takes place every year here in Dade and Broward Counties to provide housing and medical assistance amongst other things for displaced veterans.
For starters, tents and cots were set up for fellow veterans to sleep so they wouldn’t have to continue to sleep on bus benches, sidewalks or wherever they could lay their head.
There also were portable latrines (bathrooms) and hot showers.
Now get this – the event also made provisions based on gender that if there were male and female tents.
It’s very difficult to imagine and disheartening to witness not only men – but women – who served this country existing without food, shelter and clothing.
Valerie Allen, 54, US Army (Ret.) was among the many veterans that slept overnight during the three-day event in hopes that her housing situation would get rectified.
“I’m separated from my husband and I have to care for my grandkids that slept in the tent with me as well,” said Allen. “I have a car note and other financial expenses to deal with.”
Allen says that even though she’s indigent – she’s not eligible for any of the Veterans Affairs (VA) housing services, because she’s 100 percent service connected, which means she receives a hefty check on a monthly basis.
Many veterans have open cases and stiff fines that they can’t afford to pay because they are unemployed, therefore, legal and employment services were rendered during the “Stand Down”.
Veteran’s court took place and according to Colmenares, approximately $175,000 in fees and fines for veterans were waived.
Without these fees and fines some of the veterans might end up being incarcerated and Paul M. Russo, MHSA, FACHE, RD, medical center director for the Miami VA, says it’s this type of concerted effort between the community and the VA that allows the system to be productive.
“For the last five years we have made great strides in eliminating homelessness,” said Russo. “But it couldn’t have been accomplished without community partners. The VA can’t do it alone.”
Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office, was on hand to assist with getting records expunged and sealed – Career Source South Florida to help with employment – Military ministry for prayer – the Florida Veterans Foundation – Operation Sacred Trust for permanent housing – the Salvation Army for temporary housing of vets and Natalie Rodriguez, Service to the Armed Forces Di-rector, for the American Red Cross, all play an intricate part in helping to eliminate homeless veterans.
“These initiatives have fixed the lives of many veterans here in Miami,” said Tomas Pedro Regalado, mayor of Miami. “This weekend you have witnessed vets getting their lives together. This was a risky challenge but I knew it was the right thing to do.”