PRESCOTT Homeless veterans stocked up for winter Saturday by swarming over tables with clothing and bedding, and helped themselves to free food, haircuts and showers. "I need some clothes and stuff," Dennis Stopher, a Vietnam War veteran, said as he combed through a building in the Rodeo Grounds that resembled a thrift shop. Stopher, who has been homeless off and on since 1972 but currently is staying in his late father's home in Williamson Valley, picked out a sleeping bag, clothing and blankets.
Stopher, 56, was among more than 100 veterans who flocked to the Stand Down for veterans that the Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System conducted in conjunction with social service agencies.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the agencies conducted the event to reach out to homeless veterans to provide them with medical/mental health screenings, personal hygiene items, clothing, counseling on benefits and other services. The agencies provided shuttle rides to veterans from four locations to the Rodeo Grounds.
"It's like a one-stop shopping," said Melissa Davis, a social worker with the VA. The local VA office conducted the event nine years ago, and revived it on Saturday with the help of a $3,000 grant from the VA.
"We rented the facility," she said. "We purchased a bunch of the goods in there (the building): the shoes, clothing."
Davis estimated that 75 homeless veterans live in the tri-city area, adding the numbers change with the season. She said about 90 percent of the homeless veterans served in Vietnam.
"We are sending them home with food, tents, sleeping bags, just the whole works (in) winter gear," Davis said.
As she spoke, Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran Lloyd Williams approached and kissed her on the cheek.
Identifying himself as a captain in the Individual Ready Reserves, Williams said that he became homeless in 1991.
Williams, who is in his late 50s, said that he has lived under bridges, adding "I'm a mountain man. I'm a recluse. That's what most vets are."
However, Williams, who carried a sleeping bag, felt a sense of community during the event, compared with feeling alone in the rice paddies in Vietnam.
"And today, I was not alone," Williams said, pounding the table for emphasis. "Then today I felt my heart."
Vietnam also was on the mind of Stopher, who said he cannot bear the sight of the amputated leg of his grandson because it reminds him of the carnage of the war. He wore a T-shirt with a map of Vietnam.
Stopher has a roof over his head, unlike James "Wolf" Tucker, a 45-year-old formerMarine who has been living in a campground off White Spar Road.
Tucker said he picked out a bedroll, tent and some clothes but unsuccessfully sought vouchers that would pay for his $10 overnight stay in a campground. He also does not have a car.
Homeless for about a year, Tucker said that he would find another place to stay Saturday if he could not come up with the money.
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