While dropping off the contributions county employees had made to support the cause -- assisting homeless veterans -- Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders struck up a conversation with a vet at the latest Heart of America Stand Down donation drive held Friday, June 6. The man told Sanders, an Army officer in the early 1990s, about waiting in line at a previous Stand Down event 3½ years ago, seeking assistance alongside other men and women who had served the nation, yet upon leaving the military found themselves without a home.
"Today, Fred has a job, and he's here as a volunteer," Sanders said a few hours later, during the Stand Down opening ceremony at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City. "This makes a difference."
Since 1993, the Heart of America Stand Down Foundation has held donation drives to give vets in need a "hand up." In military jargon, "stand down" means a brief cessation of hostilities during a combat situation. After being on high alert, troops can get some rest, eat a warm meal and enjoy one another's camaraderie.
At the Scottish Rite Temple on June 6, the 70th anniversary of the famous D-Day invasion, veterans struggling to survive homelessness were given hot food and access to more than 75 community service organizations. The services those agencies offer range from legal and housing assistance to providing employment opportunities, educational benefits and even haircuts. Items donated included toothpaste, deodorant and shaving cream.
"The reality is you have stood up for this nation, and now it's time for this community to stand up for all of you," Sanders told the hundreds of vets assembled on the temple grounds. "God bless you for your service and sacrifice."Appalling Numbers
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, one in four homeless people in the United States is a veteran. In Kansas City, on any given day, there are approximately 1,400 homeless veterans.
"Let that sink in," Sanders said. "One out of four homeless people -- someone sleeping without a home tonight -- is a veteran. Joblessness among veterans is double the national average.
"This is a national crisis."
The words of gratitude repeatedly expressed to veterans, Sanders stressed, must be followed up by actions. Echoing his call for the nation to "stand up" and better care for those who have served in the armed forces were U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (Missouri 5th District) and Kansas City Mayor Sly James."The County Executive is exactly right," Cleaver said. "There is no excuse for not providing services to our veterans. There is no excuse. We have to do better."
James thanked the Vietnam veterans in the attendance, citing their determination "to see that no other veterans would be treated like they were after the Vietnam War."
He stated, "One thing that should never be in dispute is the obligation we owe to the people who put on uniforms and defend the freedoms we enjoy."
County Donation Drive Continues
The Heart of America Stand Down Foundation expected to serve between 500 and 700 veterans during its two-day event, June 6 and 7. Jackson County's donation drive to assist veterans in need will continue through the county's Big Bang Fourth of July Celebration at Longview Lake.
"If this is your first year here, please make it your last year because we want everybody off the streets within a year," said Heart of American Stand Down Coordinator Bob Waechter. "A lot of people are working hard to make that happen."