Homeless vets get help on campus

Approximately 800 veterans received free care last weekend on the West Bank.

Mehgan Lee

George Jordan said he usually sleeps on the University’s campus.

But Jordan isn’t a student taking a nap between classes. He is a homeless veteran.

Jordan, who served in the Army from 1979 to 1983, said he receives a $200 to $300 disability check from the government each month. However, the check is not enough for him to afford housing, he said.

So, Jordan said, he patrols the University grounds each day in search of shelter, and University police often cite him for trespassing, he said.

“The police, they all know me,” Jordan said.

But Jordan did not need to worry about the police or finding shelter last weekend, because the University hosted the 12th annual Minnesota StandDown on the West Bank recreation fields near the law school.

The event, organized by Minnesota StandDown Inc., provides shelter, hot meals, showers, haircuts and a variety of other free services to homeless and economically struggling veterans.

Veterans at the event had access to medical and dental care, financial and substance abuse counseling, legal aid and social security eligibility information.

The Department of Defense donated $200,000 in clothing to the event, said Bill Lindboe, president of Minnesota StandDown Inc.

An estimated 800 veterans attended the event, which was held from Thursday morning to Saturday afternoon. The area became a small city for the veterans, filled with more than 50 Army-green military tents.

Bob Pederson, founder of Minnesota StandDown and retired homeless outreach coordinator for the Department of Veteran Affairs, said he thinks veterans make up a large majority of the homeless population.

“In my opinion, having worked 14-plus years on the streets of Minnesota, I would say 48 percent of the homeless population are veterans,” he said.

The event provided homeless veterans with vital connections to people in the community who can help them get back on their feet, Lindboe said.

Veterans met with medical personnel who helped them prioritize their needs and build a plan for their future, he said.

“Their problems can’t be solved in three days,” Lindboe said. “This isn’t a place where miracles occur. It’s a place where miracles begin.”

The miracle began eight years ago for Steve Carlson, a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who is disabled by gunshots to his right arm and hip. It was then that Carlson attended a Minnesota StandDown and connected with the full Veterans Affairs benefits he was entitled to, he said.

“They helped me cut through the red tape,” Carlson said.

Now, Carlson volunteers at the events.

Before Carlson headed off to the mess hall tent to roast a pig for his fellow veterans Friday evening, he took advantage of a free haircut and beard trim offered by Gloria Pederson.

Pederson, an Army National Guard veteran, has cut hair at all 12 Minnesota StandDowns.

“It’s about giving back to those who gave,” Pederson said.

More than 6,000 volunteer hours go into the event, Lindboe said.

“If the volunteers weren’t here, this wouldn’t be possible,” he said.

The University rents the recreation fields to Minnesota StandDown every year for the event, Lindboe said. It also provides lower parking rates for event visitors, he said.

“They are wonderful, wonderful hosts,” Lindboe said.

The word ‘standdown,’ popularized during the Vietnam War, refers to the respite combat units are given during times of war to rest and recover. The event aims to give a similar respite to homeless veterans.

“There are no homeless veterans right now as long as we’re here,” Lindboe said. “We’re stopping the cycle of homelessness.”