Event offers one-stop shopping for homeless veterans

More than 70 veterans reported being homeless in Crawford, La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon counties

A recent report found that nearly 20 percent of the homeless population in the La Crosse area is veterans.

Thursday, those veterans were asked to “stand down” and come to the La Crosse Homeless Veterans Stand Down where they could get the help they deserve. The event aimed at veterans who are either low-income, homeless or at risk of being homeless. Organizers said it was like a one-stop shop for all the resources a veteran would need to help get them out of homelessness.

Don Clark served in World War II. At 87 years old, he’s in pretty good shape and goes to the VA in Tomah to keep himself that way. He said getting to Tomah from La Crosse from his appointments isn’t always easy. That’s why he went to the stand down Thursday.

“I found out two or three people will pick you up and take you anywhere you want. I mean, this is very important to me now,” Clark said.

In the most recent homeless count, which was done in July, more than 70 veterans reported being homeless in Crawford, La Crosse, Monroe and Vernon counties combined. That’s why organizers said events like this are so important.

“A lot of veterans just don’t know what their benefits are. We had veterans coming back from Vietnam, World War II, Korean War, some of the Gulf War, they weren’t really told what their benefits were and they really weren’t told what to do,” Amanda Steinhoff, outreach coordinator for the homeless program at the Tomah VA, said.

“We have haircuts here, the Veterans Assistance Foundation is here to be able to offer those homeless veterans a space in our program in Tomah at the VA, we also have clothing here, cold weather clothing, hats, mittens, gloves, jackets for those that are outside, give them some warm clothing, we’re giving flu shots, even giving massages here,” Chris Hanson, president and CEO of the Veterans Assistance Foundation, said.

The stand down had resources from the state, federal, local and nonprofit levels, all in one room.

Clark said he is one of those veterans who didn’t know about all the benefits he earned by serving his country, but he’s very thankful to have them.

“Year by year we’re growing in numbers and we’re growing in difficulties, but these show that there’s a new awareness in the public’s mind. Every time you help a vet you honor your country,” Clark said.

Steinhoff expected 250-300 veterans to walk through the door.

To get the word out to homeless veterans about this event she and her staff went on foot into the community and talked face-to-face with a lot of the veterans, as well as posted fliers.

If you know of a homeless veteran in need of help, you can call 877-4AID-VET.