They come from all over the Valley for a variety of reasons—job assistance, legal help, housing assistance or food. Some simply get haircuts, while others find temporary sleeping quarters and hot meals. Those with pets can even have their animal seen by a veterinarian. Veterans in Maricopa County can obtain assistance with almost all needs at the Maricopa County StandDown, a two-day event organized by the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness for homeless and at-risk military veterans.
The Department of Economic Security (DES) has been a fixture at this event—the biggest in the country—for the last eight years. DES Division of Benefits and Medical Eligibility (DBME) Local Office Manager, Rhonda Coombs, has participated for most of those years.
“I love this; this is not a job,” said Coombs. “That’s what we do in family assistance—we help people—and that’s probably the best feeling anybody could have.”
Over the two-day event, DES helped more than 350 people with nutritional and cash assistance. Most of the need was for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Coombs estimates about 75 percent of the veterans who visited DES at the StandDown are homeless.
“A lot of them, because they are homeless, don’t get their mail, so they don’t know when their benefits run out,” said Coombs. They miss their renewal, so their benefits stop.”
Veteran Richard T. Davis was one of those DES helped on Friday.
“They treated me right,” said Davis. “No complaints at all! The food stamps are really helpful to me.”
Coombs says most—especially the older vets—are very appreciative.
“They even tell us ‘thank you for being here,’ which we don’t hear a lot at the local office,” said Coombs. “They’re generally appreciative for whatever we can do for them.”
The Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness hosts the StandDown, which is a military term that refers to a brief period of time for a soldier to leave a combat area, to rest and regain strength before returning to battle. The first event in 2001 drew 414 veterans. Last year, 1,850 were served. Maricopa County’s annual event is now in its 16th year. Estimates are at least 1,900 veterans walked through the doors and received at least one service at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix this year. Some veterans, like Davis, would come twice a year, if it were offered.
“StandDown is a good event for vets who don’t have access to services,” Davis said. He called it one-stop shopping, where he can take advantage of all the services in one day.
Pima County hosted a StandDown earlier this year, and others are scheduled for Bullhead City and Yuma. The Arizona Veterans StandDown Alliance (AVSA) was created in 2014 to pool resources and share best practices for StandDowns held across Arizona.
For additional information about the DES Veterans Workforce Program, visit the Veterans Workforce webpage. To learn more about StandDown events around the Valley, including information about how to get involved, go to the Arizona StandDown webpage.
By Connie Weber