It’s estimated that 50,000 of our nation’s veterans are homeless. Today, several organizations in La Crosse joined together to help those in need. Fox 25/48’s Erin O’Brien has more on today’s homeless veteran’s ‘Stand Down’. 91 year old Ralph Johnson comes to the homeless veterans stand down every year for one simple reason: “Serving the veterans.” Because he himself is a veteran from World War 2.
Ralph Johnson: “In Africa, Italy, Sicily, went to England, got two invasions under my belt, wounded twice.”
This year he’s handing out shoes to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. While others pass out warm clothes, blankets, toiletries, and more. Others provide massages, haircuts, and flu shots. The veteran’s assistance foundation and the Tomah VA organize the stand down each year with a grant from the department of labor, and with the help of several local organizations.
Chris Hanson CEO Veterans Assistance Foundation: “We need to do something for our homeless veterans, our low-income veterans. Unfortunately, with 14 years of perpetual war that we’ve had since September 11th, we’re generating a whole new population of veterans. And if we can help them now before they hit that next step it’s easier for us to do this.”
This year, about three hundred homeless or at-risk veterans came to the ‘Stand Down’. Sergeant Levi Girtler came to volunteer and just talk with some of the veterans.
U.S Army Sgt. Levi Girtler: “A lot of our veteran’s kind of get in this place. They kind of, once they leave the service, they get left behind.”
People tell me another great part of the event is the camaraderie that people find with one another each year.
James Stading: “Veterans are a unique group of people. We’ve been through different things, and it’s hard sometimes to talk to families or other people about our experiences. I’ve seen some of these same people that I give shots to, year after, year after year. We may not know exactly each other’s names but we recognize faces and that’s the best part.”
Sgt. Girtler: “We’re all brothers and sisters.”
Another homeless veteran’s ‘Stand Down’ will be held November fifth in Wisconsin Rapids.