News: Homeless vets get a hand from MWSS-373
Story by Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot
SAN DIEGO - With rows of large green tents, cots, tables and American and military flags, the San Diego High School athletic fields looked more like a forward operating base for Marines than baseball and physical education facilities for students.
Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 transformed the fields to house more than 1,000 homeless San Diego veterans and family members for the 2011 San Diego Stand Down July 15, during which participants received three days of sheltered sleep, good meals and access to free medical, dental and counseling services.
Ron Stark, Stand Down’s organizer, explained that the event is meant to be a retreat from homelessness for the participants.
“It’s an opportunity for them to regroup and prepare to re-engage life,” said Stark, a local San Diegan and Navy veteran.
Marine units have offered logistical assistance since the early years of Stand Down’s inception in 1988, explained Stark.
“This is a good way for Marines to get involved with other veterans,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Hahn, a radio chief with MWSS-373 and Phoenix native.
Hahn added that the Marine volunteers bring something extra to the execution of Stand Down.
“We have a ‘get it done’ mentality,” said Hahn. “No matter what our limitations are, we’ll accomplish the mission.”
The Marines displayed their can-do spirit by assembling 67 large tents that would provide safe housing and administrative facilities for the participants over the course of the event. MWSS-373 also provided tables so the various agencies could provide much-needed services and more than 900 cots.
The Marine volunteers stuck around for the weekend to help wherever participants and volunteers needed them, as well as to socialize with the homeless veterans who do not often get to spend time with active duty service members, explained Stark.
“It evokes memories of their military time,” said Stark. “Here, they get a handshake and a welcome home.”
In addition to logistical support from MWSS-373, Naval Medical Center Balboa provided free medical and dental care. Other local agencies provided a myriad of services, from employment counseling to hair cutting and hygiene facilities.
After the event, the Marines disassembled the makeshift structures and turned the fields back into traditional high school athletic areas.
Stark hopes that either through legal or emotional counseling, or by simply being in the presence of fellow veterans and active duty service members, the homeless veterans will find the support they need.
For more information about Stand Down, visit www.vvsd.net/standdown.htm.