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Volunteers Reach Out to Homeless Vets : Relief: Three-day 'Stand Down 1994' at Ventura College offers free medical care, legal help and other social services. It's a way of saying 'thanks.'


It was a homecoming that Joe Gonzales had waited nearly two decades for.

At the Ventura College football field, in a tent city opened Friday for homeless veterans, the 36-year-old ex-Marine was feeling good about having defended his country.

By noon, he and his two boys had received free meals and free legal help. Their afternoon agenda included medical exams, dental checkups and haircuts.

In all the years since leaving the Marine Corps, Gonzales hasn't gotten much help as a veteran. That changed dramatically in just a few hours.

"This is what all of us needed," the Vietnam veteran said. "I feel like somebody is finally saying, 'Thank you.' Nobody ever said that to us."

More than 120 homeless veterans from throughout Ventura County took part Friday in "Stand Down 1994," a three-day relief effort offering free medical care, legal help and other social services.

"It's a hell of a setup," said 42-year-old Lonnie Ellis, picking out a new pair of shoes and a new set of clothes at the college gym. "It kind of makes a vet feel good."

Stand down is a military term used when a unit is shifted from a combat situation to one of safety and security. While the program has been held around the country since the late 1980s, it made its first Ventura County appearance last year.

Ninety veterans took part in that event. To boost this year's attendance, organizers embarked early on an advertising campaign. And on Friday, volunteers scoured the county, offering free rides to participants.

Gordon Amundsen was the only one to take advantage of the offer in the east county.

Stuffing nearly all he owns into a plastic grocery bag, the Simi Valley man boarded a van on loan from First Interstate Bank. He and bank officer Phillip Hicks then stopped at advertised pickup points in Moorpark and Thousand Oaks.

"I was real disappointed there weren't more people," said the 55-year-old Amundsen, a former Navy man. "It sounds like a really nice thing."

Along the sideline of the basketball court in the school's gymnasium, a trio of student hairstylists from Ventura's Lu Ross Academy drew a crowd. Many merely wanted their short, military style haircuts shaved down.

Those with long hair tended to steer clear.

In a nearby classroom, Ventura County Municipal Judge John E. Dobroth presided over a makeshift courtroom. His bench was the front desk, where the teacher ordinarily would sit. Off to one side, a computer and printer spit out paperwork fished directly out of the records system at the Hall of Justice.

Most cases involved unpaid traffic tickets and other minor violations. In most cases, Dobroth heard the veteran's explanation, then assigned community service to be done during the three-day event.

In one case, the defendant was homeless and stuck with a fine he could not pay. Prepared for the worst, he stepped before the judge and asked him to go easy.

"You're going to have to work pretty hard for three straight days," Dobroth responded. "That's a pretty good deal."

Back on the football field, Al Sanchez supervised the chow line. It was during last year's "Stand Down" that Sanchez attended his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He has been sober ever since and is back this year as a volunteer.

"No more blackouts. No more tunnel vision," he said proudly. "All I can tell you is that it works."


"Stand Down 1994" will continue today and Sunday at Ventura College, 4667 Telegraph Road, Ventura. Today, the relief effort offers homeless military veterans from throughout Ventura County medical care, legal help and a variety of other social services. On Sunday, event organizers are inviting all veterans to take advantage of those services.

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