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Days of Rest, Recuperation Offered Homeless Veterans

June 20, 1991|JUSTINE SAHLI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The yellow ribbons and parades have welcomed home soldiers from the Persian Gulf, but all over the city, homeless veterans of past wars still scramble for a meal and a place to sleep.

For three days this weekend, however, veterans will be invited off the street and offered hot meals, showers, medical checkups, legal advice and help in finding jobs during "Stand Down '91," a program sponsored by dozens of public and private service agencies.

The program, named for a military term meaning to move from a combat situation to one of safety and security, will be held Friday through Sunday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in east Long Beach.

"This is a chance for a new beginning for them. At this one location they can get services that they cannot otherwise access," said project chairman Gus Hein.

There are about 1,200 homeless veterans in Long Beach, most of whom served during the Vietnam War, Hein said.

Cards for the free event are being passed out to the city's homeless. On June 21, Long Beach Transit will pick up participants at several sites around town and deliver them to the stadium.

After their status as veterans has been verified by computers, they will receive identification cards for meals, a set of clean clothes, a haircut, job counseling and a bed for the night in one of the more than 20 military tents set up at the stadium. Seminars will be offered on Agent Orange, family stress, substance abuse, AIDS and mental health counseling.

Among the organizations donating time and staff to the event are the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach and the Naval Hospital, whose doctors and nurses will conduct physical exams.

Volunteers from Belmont Heights United Methodist Church have collected clothing for distribution. Long Beach Municipal Court judges, attorneys and public defenders will set up an on-site court for veterans to clear outstanding warrants and resolve pending legal disputes. In lieu of fines and penalties, homeless vets will be ordered to perform community service, officials said.

Stand Down '91 is based on a similar program held annually in San Diego since 1988. To volunteer time or goods, or for more information, call (213) 599-8805.

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