Veterans

County Helps Homeless Veterans at Stand Down 2016

Deputy Public Defender Paige Stevens counsels a homeless veteran with his legal case at Stand Down in July, 2016.
Deputy Public Defender Paige Stevens counsels a homeless veteran with his legal case at Stand Down in July, 2016.

Many homeless veterans were given much needed assistance with social, health, legal and court services from San Diego County departments and other agencies over the July 22 weekend as part of Stand Down 2016.

The Veterans Village of San Diego has hosted the three-day event every year since 1988 at San Diego High School to bring resources and services to homeless veterans and their family members.

Steve Binder, a deputy public defender, said Stand Down is a “three-day window of opportunity for homeless veterans and their loved ones to try to reclaim their lives” by addressing predicaments involving health or hunger, legal or warrant problems, or veterans benefits.

Binder, who helped establish Homeless Court at the second Stand Down in 1989, said it gives homeless veterans a chance to resolve their misdemeanor cases and infractions by engaging in program activities, and addressing the circumstances that lead to the offenses. The court considers participation in treatment and other programs when it dismisses cases, satisfies terms and conditions of probation or accepts a guilty plea.

Binder said that in addition to misdemeanor crimes, they are also scheduling follow-up appointments with people who need to address outstanding felony crimes as well.

“There are ways to step up to the plate and it’s not always easy or pleasant, but it’s work to be done,” said Binder. “You can get a phenomenal amount of work done in 3 days.”

A homeless veteran on the right is counseled by an attorney at Child Support Court.
A homeless veteran on the right is counseled by an attorney at Child Support Court.

Deputy Public Defender Matthew Wechter said the main reason he comes back to work with the Homeless Court is he believes helping homeless veterans navigate legal problems as well as other needs is the least they can do when many have come back with significant physical and mental injuries after serving their country.

“The services that they give to these veterans are really amazing. I get chills when I show up,” Wechter said. “It’s amazing to be a part of it.”

Deputy Public Defender Paige Stevens is participating for the second year in the program.

“Last year, I cried because this is so amazing,” said Stevens of the work being done to guide and support homeless veterans who want to change their lives. “This shows hope to me. They have hope.”

Meanwhile, the County’s Department of Child Support Services was holding child support court.

“For me, this help is going to be life-changing,” said Vanessa Messner, 42, a mother of three who is a disabled veteran and recently homeless due to a house fire. Messner was behind on payments and able to go before a commissioner to get the monthly amount reduced based on her catastrophic circumstance.

“This is a good start,” said Messner after court.

Homeless disabled veteran Vanessa Messner with one of her daughters said she was grateful to take care of an important matter in child support court on Friday.
Homeless disabled veteran Vanessa Messner with one of her daughters said she was grateful to take care of an important matter in child support court on Friday.

During court, a commissioner may help people who have fallen behind in payments for their children by adjusting the order if financial conditions have changed. The commissioner may also remove a driver’s license hold placed on them for non-payment so that they can continue to drive to work.

“In prior years, we were seeing the older-era veterans who were more chronically homeless with past due debt for adult children, but now we’re noticing that we’re helping a younger generation of veterans returning from more recent conflicts, but that may not have been homeless for as long,” said Bryanna Fornerod, a military and veteran liaison with Child Support Services. “A lot of the veterans we are seeing now may still have minor children, so we have to take a whole family approach to each case.”

Child Support Services reviewed more than 500 applications and assisted 38 people with their cases during Stand Down.

Homeless veterans also were able to receive assistance from the Office of Military & Veterans Affairs for comprehensive benefits counseling, disability claims preparation, military records and corrections and CalVet tuition fee waivers, a popular service, said Timothy Mathues, a veteran outreach program coordinator.

Family Resource Center staff talk to a homeless veteran about various benefits that he may be eligible for and explain the application process.
Family Resource Center staff talk to a homeless veteran about various benefits that he may be eligible for and explain the application process.

The County’s Central Region Metro Family Resource Center staff also helped 47 veterans at Stand Down to provide information on CalFresh, Medi-Cal, CalWORKs, and general relief. Staff assisted seven people with their applications for CalFresh benefits and provided updates on pending or active cases. The Central Region Homeless Outreach Team human services specialist was also available for assistance and helped place a young homeless mother and her 7-week-old baby into a shelter and provided a referral to a different client for a long-term detox program.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact