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East Bay Stand Down wraps up its 4-day event as homeless veterans head back to where they were

Group's goal at Fairgrounds event was to provide needed services, a bit of cheer

Hundreds of Bay Area homeless veterans are back to wherever they were a week ago after four days of special care during the East Bay Stand Down at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.

The more than 450 veterans left by bus for their home destinations at noon yesterday with roast beef sandwiches and more, possibly their last full meal of the day.

By early afternoon, the giant tent city where they lived, ate and received care also was gone, emptying the space that had been provided free of charge by Fairgrounds director Rick Pickering and his staff.

While here, the veterans were offered a wide range of services not readily available where they're living. These included medical exams, legal advice, haircuts and even special care for the pets they brought along.

The pets, by the way, included even a parakeet and a snake, said former Judge Ron Hyde, who supervised Saturday night's dinner for the homeless men and women.

Hundreds of volunteers donated their services.

Among the favored free services were free hot showers and plenty of food.

The East Bay Stand Down organization also offered all new clothing, boots and other basic needs. Through the support of local dentists, it offered free oral health care, as well as follow-up care after the event.

Starting in 2000, the group has put on the event every two years. It is aimed at breaking the cycle of problems facing many Bay Area vets.

"Stand down" is a war term that refers to the practice of removing combat troops from the battlefield so that they can be cared for in a safe area, according to the group's website.

"We provide what we call a 'one stop shop,'" said Jerry Yahiro, who is on the board of directors for the event, known as East Bay Stand Down. The organizing group's goal is to end homelessness among veterans

Yahiro said the last numbers he has seen indicate that there are an estimated 15,000 homeless veterans living in the nine-county Bay Area.

Although many of the services offered at the Pleasanton event are available to veterans on a daily basis, Yahiro said they are often scattered and difficult to find.

It is estimated that there are more than 180,000 needy and homeless veterans throughout the country on any given night. A significant number of these veterans have had little or no contact with the Veterans Administration for either monetary or medical benefits. Nor have they had much contact with other agencies offering assistance.

Since the first Stand Down held in San Diego in 1988, Stand Downs have taken place in over 200 cities nationwide. Over 100,000 veterans and their families have benefited from Stand Downs. These events have proved to be very effective in helping to break the cycle of homelessness.

East Bay Stand Down is sponsored by a broad base of community agencies led by the VA's Concord Vet Center, the Rotary Clubs in the East Bay counties, the Viet Nam Veterans of Diablo Valley and the Ladies Auxiliary & VFW Post 6435 of Antioch.

Corporate sponsors include Safeway, AT&T, Peet's Coffee, Lawrence Livermore Labs, and many others. Significant support is received from the different branches of the U.S. military, led by the U.S. Army Reserves Medical Brigade.

Saturday night's dinner for the vets was hosted by Rotary Clubs in Pleasanton, Dublin and the Livermore Valley.

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