Stand Down at Fairgrounds serving those who served

Thousands of volunteers helping hundreds of needy veterans for weekend event

Pleasanton has a village inside its borders today with a population that may top 2,000.

The biannual East Bay Stand Down at the Alameda County Fairgrounds has drawn more than 700 needy veterans, some of whom waited at the gate for the event to open Thursday as others arrived by bus.

Over the course of the four-day campout, more than 2,000 volunteers are helping them out. The veterans are getting services which include everything that someone living on the streets could need -- from doctors, dental treatment and vision services to 12-step programs. And they receive sleeping bags, clean clothes and new shoes as well as ditty bags decorated by local kids.

The Stand Down brings veterans the company of their peers, like Mike Gainer, who received the benefits of two prior stand downs and came back this year to volunteer as a tent leader.

Gainer joined the Army in 1976, when he was 17, and struggled after he left the service in 1983, at times becoming homeless. He's now a peer counselor in Oakland, and although he says he's not where he wants to be yet, he's on the way. Gainer took vacation time to dedicate a long weekend to help the people who helped him, and he is working with the 19 vets bunking with him in Tent C.

"I'm trying to help them coordinate and engage in services," he said.

Gainer, who admits he's energetic by nature, said he has to work hard to contain his enthusiasm.

"I had to tone it down -- I don't want to burn out," he said.

Gainer's enthusiasm came through, though, as he talked with one of his bunk mates, Ron Gaskell, going over a list of services Gaskell hoped to receive before leaving Sunday.

Gaskell, who served in the Army from 1973 to 1985 and in the National Guard from 1988 to 1994, is homeless -- one of an estimated 15,000 homeless vets in Northern California.

Not everyone can be helped, Gainer said, noting that one of his clients wouldn't come, despite the services the Stand Down offers.

Job placement help is available, along with residential programs and legal and tax advice. The Social Security Administration is on hand, as is the California Department of Motor Vehicles and even a court.

That court was started in 2000 by Pleasanton Judge Ron Hyde after he learned about legal services offered at the original stand down, which is still held annually in San Diego.

"I decided because we're called East Bay Stand Down, we should have more than Alameda courts here," Hyde said. "This was the first multi-jurisdictional homeless court in the U.S."

The Stand Down may help many, but it's not easy work. Some of the veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, or alcohol or drug problems. Some have emotional problems.

Hyde, for example, was stopped by a man upset that the court schedule didn't list his case -- the main reason he came. After Hyde patiently discussed it with him, the man agreed to stay, and his case will apparently be heard.

Although no one from the Tri-Valley was there to receive services, volunteers from Pleasanton and Contra Costa County, including judges, came to help.

Gainer has nothing but praise for the volunteers.

"They put in so much work to do this," he said. "I feel special."

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Like this comment
Posted by PFC Hodges
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Aug 19, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I was a volunteer at this event, and it was the greatest feeling to give to these veterans after all they have given to us. It was a blessing to help and serve them.

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