A Stand Down for Homeless Veterans event is meant to gather resources all in one place, so veterans can get support, ask questions and make connections without having to travel for them.

But to Michael Strom, the best part of the annual resource fair are the people who attend.

"I think the most helpful thing about this is it allows veterans to connect with other veterans," said Strom, an Albany resident who served three and a half years with the U.S. Navy in Desert Storm. 

"They're more willing to talk to each other," he added. "There's similar shoes that we walk." 

In military slang, to "stand down" is to relax. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the "stand down" concept as a location began during the Vietnam War. Stand Downs were areas designated as safe retreats for units returning from combat; places they could grab a shower, a clean uniform and a warm meal.

Stand Down for Homeless Veterans events began in San Diego in 1988. Linn-Benton Community College played host to a mid-valley Stand Down resource fair Thursday, the second consecutive year it has done so.

Events the previous two years were held in Lebanon. Before that, veterans looking for such an event had to travel to Salem or Eugene.

Mikalyn Martinez, a case manager for Support Services for Veterans Families and one of the event volunteers, said she thinks the community college's central location makes it better for bringing in additional people. Volunteers weren't sure how many veterans to expect for the five-hour fair, but 42 had checked in during the first two hours. 

Visitors to this year's event were invited to talk with a variety of service representatives, all of whom stood ready to help them with insurance benefits, low-income housing, health and dental questions, employment information and more.

Volunteers at one booth provided free haircuts. Another room was stocked with clothing to give away. Still another area had tents, sleeping bags and other equipment to ease the strain of outdoor living.

Michael Beck said he particularly appreciated the cold weather stock. He doesn't currently have need of it — the retired Air Force veteran has found housing — but he has been homeless and knows the need.

Beck went to Stand Down events in Lebanon and Newport in 2016 to pick up items to help him survive the winter. "It just made life a little easier," he said.

Even now, he said, the Stand Down at LBCC helps him fill some basic needs he can't otherwise afford. 

"Some way, I'm going to try to pay it forward," he said. "There's a lot of us out there."

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