Program to Assist Homeless Veterans Needs New Quarters

Times Staff Writer

Organizers of an annual effort to assist Ventura County's homeless veterans are scrambling to find a new location to hold the summer weekend event.

Stand Down, held at the Ventura College football field for the past decade, will be displaced in July because of improvements planned for the college's facilities.

"It would really be a pity if during war time we couldn't accommodate our former veterans," said college President Larry Calderon, who has tried to help Stand Down find a new location.

"I didn't think it would be that difficult to find another location in this area."

The three-day outreach effort -- during which participants sleep in tents on cots -- provides homeless veterans with free meals, haircuts, clothing, medical treatment, legal service, employment counseling, housing information and lists of veterans benefits and other government services.

In addition, lawyers, along with a Ventura County Superior Court judge, donate their time to handle misdemeanor warrants and convictions on behalf of the veterans.

Stand Down, which refers to the time when troops get to rest and recover during combat, is open to any homeless veteran and his or her family.

The program usually includes workshops on Agent Orange, substance abuse and stress reduction, and homeless participants are given free transportation to and from the event.

The move is necessary because the grass at Ventura College's football field is scheduled to be replaced with artificial turf, the field will be expanded to accommodate football and soccer competitions, and a surrounding gravel track will receive a rubberized surface.

Permanent seating also will be installed at the field, which will be unavailable for six to nine months.

Part of the difficulty in locating a replacement site, Calderon said, is that construction is scheduled this summer at the stadiums at Ventura and Buena high schools in Ventura, and many of the fields at local middle schools have long-standing arrangements with community youth football and soccer teams.

"We had a beautiful home [at Ventura College] for 10 years," said Claire Hope, the Camarillo businesswoman who coordinates the local Stand Down.

"Organizing an annual event is hard enough without having to find a new site. It's a major project."

Hope and her committee are investigating taking the event to College Park near Oxnard College, the former Oxnard High School campus, Santa Paula High School or to a private school campus in the west county.

"I feel confident that we'll find something," she said.

Organizers need a free or low-cost site of two or more mostly open acres, preferably with enclosed fencing, and with access to telephone and electric service.

Hope said Navy Seabees will provide portable showers for the temporary military encampment, which requires three days to set up and one to disassemble.

"We'll consider different dates if we have to," Hope said. "We're not locked into the west county, although we prefer it because that's where most of the homeless population is located."

People with information about a potential site can reach Hope at (805) 987-3118.

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