CUMBERLAND — "We turn no one away," says Anthony DeQuattro, president of Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. The annual encampment to assist all veterans, including those who are homeless, got underway Friday at Diamond Hill Park and continues today and tomorrow.
The three-day outreach event features a wide array of services for homeless veterans and any veteran seeking help, such as housing, hot meals and showers, clothing, benefits screenings, legal assistance, medical and mental health services, vaccinations, substance abuse support and counseling.
This is the 18th year the military-style weekend encampment has been held. Last year, Operation Stand Down assisted more than 300 veterans.
"We pay for emergency housing. No one leaves without a place to stay,” DeQuattro said.
Operation Stand Down Rhode Island is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a safe and supportive permanent home for veterans of the United States Armed Services. An estimated 250 veterans receive support from this Stand Down annually and more than 3,000 have been given a “hand up, not a handout” since the organization formed and began its work in Rhode Island in 1993 (Operation Stand Down is a national event – other states also have Stand Downs, however, Rhode Island is one of the only remaining to hold a three-day outreach).
In addition to the annual Stand Down Weekend, Operation Stand Down RI operates four year-round homes for more than 30 veterans. These homes are located in Johnston, West Warwick and Providence with additional homes to open in coming months.
Founded in 1988 in 35 states, Operation Stand Down is a national coalition of concerned Americans who have dedicated themselves to eliminating homelessness among the nation's veterans. In 1993 Stand Down (meaning at ease) Rhode Island initiated an annual three-day residential program to assist area homeless veterans to secure social, medical, legal, and housing assistance.
"A Hand up, not a Handout' is the motto that guides us in our work with veterans," says DeQuattro. "We realized that veterans needed more assistance so we established permanent housing for eight veterans in Johnston in 2001."
A school building and a second home for veterans was opened in West Warwick in 2005 and the organization opened another in Providence in May of 2009.
"We are currently working toward opening homes in other areas," DeQuattro said.
Operation Stand Down Rhode Island's housing program includes a full array of supportive services and is a place where a disabled vet can live the remainder of his or her life in safety and comfort.
"Our annual Stand Down outreach weekend addresses two of the most pervasive frustrations of the homeless veteran: who can help me, and how can I reach them?" DeQuattro said. "Lack of information and limited mobility combine forming an almost impenetrable barricade between the veteran and the help needed. We know that unless the sources of help are made available to these homeless citizens, there is little chance of remedying their suffering, and empowering them to find the point of reentry back into American mainstream."
While at the encampment, homeless veterans can meet with medical, dental and legal professionals and learn about housing programs, workforce training and veteran benefits. Johnson and Wales University is providing meals. Homeless and at-risk veterans can stay through the weekend.
The outreach weekend provides an array of services.
"First we create for them a safe place - our tent-city compound - in which veterans can gather," DeQuattro explained. "We shuttle in homeless veterans from all over the Rhode Island area. We surround those veterans with friends with whom they feel comfortable. We bring to them sources of help, and then we coordinate those sources of help with the vet's needs.”
According to DeQuattro, those veterans who need shelter are referred to agencies that provide housing, both temporary and permanent. Veterans who need medical care are first examined at the Stand Down, and then referred to the appropriate medical facility for follow-up care. Vets in need of mental health care or substance abuse intervention are directed to treatment centers. Legal counsel and assistance with VA claims are made available, as well. Haircuts and clothing is also provided free to veterans.
"The success of Operation Stand Down is convincing testimony that a concerned community can join hands and accomplish miracles," says DeQuattro, adding that doctors, dentists, the VA Medical Center, Legal Aid, Johnson and Wales University, the Vet Centers, the RI Coalition for the Homeless, homeless shelters, halfway houses, college students, private citizens, private businesses, and a host of others join each year to help Operation Stand Down help veterans.
Additional information about Operation Stand Down RI is available at www.osdri.com , on Facebook, or by calling (401) 383-4730.