Stand Down Morristown offers help to veterans

Jan 20, 13 Stand Down Morristown offers help to veterans

Written by MaryLynn Schiavi Special to the Daily Record —

The number of homeless veterans throughout New Jersey is dropping thanks to outreach programs around the state, according to Tom Dresdner, president and CEO of The New Jersey Fallen Soldiers Foundation.

The Foundation was one of three organizations hosting the inaugural Stand Down Morristown, a two-day event that drew close to 150 homeless veterans.

The event was held at the Morristown National Guard Armory Friday and Saturday. The other organizations hosting the Stand Down were Community Hope and Morris County-Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) but more than 50 state, county, commercial, and private non-profit organizations and businesses particpated.

Dresdner said Stand Down Morristown has been in the planning stages for almost a year and developed from a suggestion made by Shilo Frampton, a Vietnam War veteran and board member of NJ Fallen Soldier.

Stand Downs are one part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide services to homeless veterans, according to the VA. Stand Downs are typically one to three day events providing services to homeless Veterans such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment, the VA said.

“In our country, we’ve talked of ‘no child left behind,’” said Sherrill Curtis of Morris County SHRM, a co-chair of the event. “It is time for us as a society and government to do the same for our service members early on.”

For Elimu Anderson, a homeless veteran living in Morristown, the Stand Down provided vital information and a chance to get new clothing.

Anderson, who served in the U.S. Navy as a boatswain from 1999 to 2001, began living on the streets after losing a job four years ago.

“I got some great information from Community Hope today. They said they could help me. I also got some clothing that I really needed,” he said.

The veterans in attendance were able to enjoy a respite from the cold, enjoying hot meals, a chance to pick up some new clothing, a general medical assessment of blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and they were able to learn about services and benefits that could help them.

Among the organizations at the event was Operation Chillout, which was established 13 years ago by Ray Chimileski, a resident of Long Valley, offered transportation to veterans throughout the region, and distributed 30 backpacks filled with essentials for surviving the harsh winter weather.

“We distributed the backpacks to the hard-sleepers, not those sleeping on couches, but those who are facing the harsh elements this winter,” said Tony DeStefano, National Homeless Veterans outreach coordinator for Operation Chillout which operates in 12 counties in the state.

The organization distributes backpacks during the winter months, and bottled water, T-shirts and baseball caps during the summer months. The winter backpacks are filled with warm clothing, toiletries, gift cards for food and phone calls.

He said donations come from the congregations of St. Luke Catholic Church and the Zion Lutheran Church in Long Valley as well as other parishes and organizations throughout the area.

“We conduct street sweeps, which include the hard luck areas of cities, river banks, woods and fields, underpasses and other likely places. We get a status of who is there and even get boot sizes when possible,” DeStefano said.

“This provides us with a chance to get to know these real people and to better understand their circumstances. From there we can try to find them housing, medical care, family members and detox if needed,” he said.

Another organization at the event was Morris Plains-based Creature Comfort Pet Therapy, a non-profit organization that offers therapy pet visits to the U.S Veterans Administration Hospital in Lyons, and other medical and nursing home facilities in the area.

“We are working with a program administered by the veterans hospital that pairs therapy dogs with Veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” said Becky Fara, a volunteer and resident of Blairstown who attended the event with her daughter Jaime Dritt.

“There’s nothing quite like the comfort that these dogs provide,” Fara said. “They create a feeling of calm.”

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