Working to Get Vets Off the Streets

Orange County has the third highest population of veterans in the state, yet one in five is living in poverty.

A program is working to get vets off the streets and into jobs at the former Tustin Air Base.

In military terms it's called a "stand down," as in stand down from battle.

But organizers of this weekend event say there is another battle veterans are fighting, the battle to find jobs and a place to live.

They fought in Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan and Iraq, but these veterans were in temporary barracks because they are homeless.

The number of homeless veterans has risen from before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to after the attacks, said Jim Palmer of OC Stand Down, which is organizing the event. Twenty percent of the more than 165,000 veterans living in Orange County are living in abject poverty with 3,500 of them homeless, according to Stand Down.

Organizers of Orange County's Operation Stand Down say what they need is a transformation, both physical and mental. They believe it can happen here.

Leshane Holmes was a lance corporal in the Marines. He's an electrician today with a positive attitude.

"It doesn't matter where I'm at in life," he said. "I'm going to do the best I can be. Just because I'm homeless right now, I won't remain homeless long."

Holmes said he will move into an apartment tomorrow.

The Stand Down brings over 100 resource providers under one hangar. These are groups that offer on-the-spot health care and housing.

"We were living in motels," said Ashley Marsh, a veteran. "It's just difficult and being in that lifestyle, it's hard to get out of."

Experts say that lifestyle is one where a soldier was told where to go, what to do and when to do it. Now a single mother such as Ashley Marsh has to navigate her own future.

Organizers hope by the end of the weekend, these vets feel empowered.

"Right now I'm here for medical benefits for my teeth," said Matthew Fink, a veteran. "My PTSD, I grind a lot so my upper teeth are almost gone. So I just want to be able to smile again."

Officials expect some 1,500 to walk through the career expo on Saturday.

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