Robert Bland has been homeless for the better part of a decade. The 41-year-old Santa Barbara man spends his mornings finding cans to recycle for cash and his afternoons panhandling.
But Bland took a break Friday from his life on the streets to take part in a three-day program, known as Stand Down, aimed at bringing relief to homeless military veterans.
"I'm digging it," said Bland, taking advantage of services offered by the program held at Ventura College. "I've had a hot shower and I'm clean."
About 200 homeless veterans from Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties are expected to attend the seventh annual Stand Down. The program's name is derived from a military term that means moving from a combat situation to safety.
"Right now they're tired, dirty and hungry, but we can see a big change in one day," said Claire Hope, founder and chairman of the event. "We provide as many services as possible to help break them out of the cycle of homelessness."
Veterans will camp out in tents spread across the college's football field. They will fill bags with new underwear, socks, clothes, shoes and toiletries set out for them in the school's gym.
After receiving showers and haircuts, they can receive help with their taxes, see a doctor or go to drug and alcohol counseling.
One of the most popular services provided over the three days is the Municipal Court, Hope said.
The veterans get tickets and warrants cleared in exchange for performing community service over the weekend.
Patrick Timbrell, 54, who lives between a fence and a wall in Santa Barbara, said he came to Stand Down two years ago and got more than $2,000 worth of tickets for minor infractions cleared in exchange for four hours of community service.
This year he came back to clear a $108 ticket.
"If I got caught, I'd go to jail," said Timbrell, who served 12 1/2 years in Vietnam and Thailand. Timbrell said he rides his bicycle about 40 miles a day searching dumpsters for recyclable cans and bottles.
"The things you find, you wouldn't believe," Timbrell said. "It's an education in anthropology."
Michael McNabb, who spent two years in the U.S. Air Force during peacetime, said he came to Stand Down because he needed help.
"I'm broke, homeless and on the streets," he said. "I enjoy talking to the veterans who help us."
Bill Alexander, 58, of Ventura said even though he now has a roof over his head, he attended the event to socialize with other veterans.
"I like the camaraderie--to me it's seeing the people," said Alexander, a Vietnam veteran.
Still, Alexander said, he will take advantage of the services this year and make his annual visit to the doctor--a visit he has made during Stand Down for the past six years.
Volunteers--mostly veterans themselves--said they also get something from the weekend.
"I want to give back to veterans," said Herb Williams, an attorney in Riverside and Vietnam veteran who volunteers at Stand Downs throughout Southern California. "I didn't have problems when I came home [from Vietnam], but these guys did."
Williams said he will try to convince some of the veterans this weekend to enroll in programs to get them off the streets.
"Some don't want it," he said of the long-term assistance offered at Stand Down. "But at least they get some food and a place to stay."