The Annual Sooner Stand Down is a once a year event held at the Homeless Alliance that brings resources directly to Oklahoma homeless Veterans. During the event, the Homeless Alliance Day Shelter is open for low-income and homeless Veterans only and they are provided with resources and information on VA benefits.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, the Sooner Stand Down was cancelled for a second year in a row. But that’s not stopping Oklahoma City VA and the Homeless Alliance in getting creative with helping homeless Veterans.

This September, the plan was to provide them with much needed resources and place 20 homeless Veterans directly into housing with essentials needed for their new home.

Volunteers and VA staff recently stuffed ruck sacks with sleeping bags, sleep mats, hygiene kits, socks, t-shirts, blankets (donated by the Red Cross) and a set of playing cards for distribution to homeless Veterans.

“We are packing up ruck sacks to give to Veterans during outreach activities who would have normally received them at the Sooner Stand Down,” said Christine Cleary, the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System’s Homeless Veteran social worker. “We do street outreach and shelter outreach several times a week in areas all over the state. We visit with homeless Veterans, talk to them about VA services, and encourage them to come and receive care from VA.”

Cleary and staff distribute ruck sacks during weekly outreach

Outreach by Oklahoma City VA homeless program staff helps to inform Veterans of their benefits and services they earned through their military service. The goal is getting homeless Veterans off the streets and into housing.

“Since Sooner Stand Down was canceled this year, we’ve decided to make a big push to house additional Veterans this month,” said Meghan Mueller, associate executive director of Homeless Alliance. “We set a goal to house 20 Veterans during the month of September and will work to house more.”

By collaborating with different housing providers, the goal is to connect Veterans to housing resources and provide them with essential items they need to feel at home wherever they end up.

“We’ve collected all kinds of great items for welcome home baskets,” Mueller said. “From small appliances to bedsheets, anything that Veterans will need to really start their new lives in housing. We’re really excited, [not just] to offer a Veteran a new place to call home, but to also make the place feel like home.”

Boeing and Elks Lodge sponsor purchases

The Homeless Alliance, through a sponsorship from Boeing and the Edmond Elks Lodge, was able to purchase many of these household items for the welcome home baskets.

“The process for getting a Veteran into housing varies depending on their situation,” Mueller said. “We work closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) team. They access housing choice vouchers that are specifically for VA eligible Veterans.”

“We have amazing community partners that have all come together,” Cleary added. “During the pandemic, people never stopped working to help our homeless Veterans. People are still housing Veterans, doing outreach, visiting shelters, under bridges and on the street, and we are still assisting people every day.”

By Phillip Ybarra is a public affairs specialist at the Oklahoma City VA.

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Published on Sep. 26, 2021

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