More than 200 homeless veterans and non-veterans marched on the grounds of the Killeen Community Center Saturday for the fifth Operation Stand Down-Central Texas.

“For me it’s about service, serving those in need in our community,” said Joann Courtland, director of Operation Stand Down-Central Texas, based in Copperas Cove. “You don’t have to carry it all, you just have to care.”

This year marks the fifth year that Operation Stand Down has been providing for the homeless veterans and the disadvantaged people living in the Copperas Cove, Harker Heights and Killeen area.

“This year we have escorts for everyone that comes today,” said Courtland. “The escorts will see to it that those who come to the stand down are taken care of.”

With over 20 vendors on site, the stand down allowed the homeless to get medical screenings and seek out housing and legal assistance among others services. They were also able to get fresh clothes and hair cuts.

The stand down was made possible by volunteers from the local communities which included the Bell County Indigent health services, the Central Texas Barber College, Central Counties Services, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Killeen Housing Authority, among others, including dentists from Fort Hood.

“We provide medically necessary healthcare to clients who don’t qualify for Medicaid or who can’t afford their own healthcare,” said Ebony Jackson, deputy director and office manager, Bell County Indigent Health Services. “We want to keep this going, we want to close the gap. With operation stand down that’s every six months, but with the monthly triage that’s upcoming we can help more people tap into the services we to offer.”

Lines of homeless people were seen outside the Killeen Community Center doors, and organizers provided transportation for the homeless veterans.

“I am really happy to see the turnout today and we are still picking up people,” said Jackson. “We have vans to pick and drop people off at central locations. We want to make it easy for them to get here.”

Homelessness comes in different forms and race nor age is not a predictor of homelessness. This year that was evident in the number of homeless veterans and non-military homeless people that showed up to receive help.

“It’s a lot of friendship. It’s a lot of good people here and I’m happy operation stand down is doing this for us,” said Kent Porter, homeless veteran who served in the Air Force in the 1970s. “I am happy to have received a haircut today.”

Army veteran Darryle Carter Jr. said the biannual event has made a big event on his life.

“Here you get to meet a lot of positive people. There are people here who want to help,” he said. “I took advantage of the housing services they have here today. Everything that a person is willing to offer me in terms of help I’m willing to take it.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that homelessness affects predominantly males and the majority live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders.

This year’s Operation Stand Down not only brought smiles to the homeless veterans, but it also brought smiles to those giving the helping hand.

“We are here to help everyone, not just the homeless veterans, we won’t turn anyone away,” said volunteer Trudy Bolton. “If they want a shower it is provided for them here today.”

For more information on Operation Stand Down-Central Texas, go www.osdct.org.

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