Local Veterans Group Hopes to Bring Sense of ‘Camaraderie’ to Fellow Vets

They are collecting donations of ‘Socks n Undies’ as part of Oct. 20 ‘Stand Down’ for homeless veterans.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces may no longer be in combat or on duty, but some who have hit on hard times are still battling on a daily basis to survive on the streets.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Veteranos Locales Aportan Sensación de “Camaradería” con Compañeros Desamparados

To give their brethren a day of rest and renewal, local veterans are organizing a “Stand Down for Homeless Veterans,” event on Oct. 20 at Whittier Narrows Recreation Center in South El Monte.

Local groups hope to connect homeless veterans with a support network of fellow veterans and resources, as well as provide an opportunity for camaraderie and friendship.

“It’s always hard to take handouts, but this is vet to vet. This is a hand up,” says Gus Ugalde, a member of the Veterans of East Los Angeles College, VELAC, which is initiating a “Socks ‘n’ Undies” drive.
The East Los Angeles College-based group is seeking donations of socks and undergarments in the weeks leading up to the “Stand Down” event.

Veterans Service Center staff Randy Urena, Andrea Luna, and Tony Zapata, picture from left to right, hope to fill up at least ten of these bins with socks and underwear donations for homeless vets. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

A Marine veteran himself, Ugalde says veterans enjoy the company of other veterans and the stand down will be a good opportunity to get together.

Despite their service to the country, the odds for stability are not good for minority veterans. Of the 100,000 homeless veterans in the country, more than 50 percent of them are African American or Latino, even though they are only 12 to 15 percent of the population, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Veterans are also more likely than most to become homeless, with nearly a fifth of the homeless population made up of veterans, even though veterans only make up an eighth of the overall population.

Ugalde says many veterans who become homeless may be feeling the effects of post-traumatic stress and may not know about the numerous healthcare and shelter resources available to them. There are also veterans who may be reluctant to use existing health facilities based on the “horror stories” they hear.

Andrea Luna, a veteran and staff member at ELAC’s new Veterans Service Center, says contrary to reputation, veterans facilities, including hospitals, have been modernized, and are better run and better equipped. “It’s not as difficult as it used to be,” she says.

The ELAC Veterans Service Center opened this past summer following years of campaigning by VELAC. The center is staffed by veterans and includes a computer room and a multi-purpose gathering space. The staff there can guide veterans through the process and paperwork to get benefits, and to provide help on any aspect of returning to school and civilian life.

The center’s staff and members of VELAC are eager to get the word out about the Stand Down to the community. Tony Zapata, assistant program director of VELAC, hoped to attract interest by shortening the word “underwear” to “undies,” which gave the important issue a catchier ring. They also created a mascot called “Choniz-Man,” a muscled superhero wearing briefs over his tights and socks instead of boots.

Luna was quick to remind that there are many female veterans who will need women’s socks and undergarments.

The staff and VELAC hope to fill up several bins with “sock ‘n’ undies” through the help of the surrounding community. They will be receiving donations at their office, located in the E1 Building on the ELAC campus, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park, CA. They can be reached at (323) 416-5052 or through email at veteranservices@elac.edu.

Donations can be in the form of new socks, undergarments including boxers, briefs, panties, bras, and under shirts. They will not be accepting used garments. On Oct. 13, they will also set up an information and fundraising booth on campus to collect donations and get the word out about the event.

The “Stand Down” on Oct. 20 will last from 8am to 4:30 and include food & drinks and live entertainment. Veterans will also get access to housing assistance, medical care, dental care, vision care, hygiene and grooming services, clothing donations and laundry services, mental health and substance abuse counseling, veterans benefits assistance and employment training services, legal services. It will take place at 1201 Portrero Avenue, South El Monte, CA 91733.

The event will be hosted by the San Gabriel Valley Veterans Employment Committee and the Office of Congresswoman Judy Chu, California’s 32nd District.

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October 13, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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