Free meals, beauty makeovers, gift sleeping bags and complimentary cellphones brought more than 800 military veterans to the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, but the bigger gift for many could come in the form of permanent homes.
The trove of goods and services available at the mass "Stand Down"—the first of its kind in the city of Los Angeles—were welcomed by former sailors, soldiers and Marines. Many planned to stay overnight in a temporary shelter in the Convention Center basement that will remain open through Monday.
Organizers of the event said that the short-term victories—a night on a warm cot, a root canal or a lawyer's advice on how to get a citation dismissed—will become more meaningful if the most troubled veterans also sign up for housing assistance.
"This is just the start," said Ivan Mason, executive director of the Los Angeles office of the nonprofit U.S. Vets, organizer of the event. "We are really trying to find the chronically homeless and the chronically mentally ill. We are looking, at the end of this, at how many of those individuals we can put into permanent housing."
That is no small task in Los Angeles County, where an estimated 4,200 people who served in the armed forces do not have regular homes. That is more than twice as many homeless veterans as in any other local jurisdiction in the United States.
President Obama has pledged to get every homeless veteran off the streets by the end of 2015, a challenge embraced by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. More than half of the county's homeless veterans are believed to live in the city of Los Angeles.