By: B.J. Coleman, Editor/Staff Reporter, 22nd District Legionnaire, California American Legion District 22, and Judge Advocate, California American Legion Press Association
Homelessness among military veterans has exploded in California, according to Bruce M. Drake, assistant director, Troop, and Family Support, from The American Legions national headquarters offices in Indianapolis, Indiana. Drake was in San Diego on Tuesday, May 1, to present donated items in response to an Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) grant request. Accepting the donations were representatives of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in La Jolla and volunteers who also assist San Diego homeless veterans.
Lead recipient on the veterans service team was Richard Sunny Farrand, who works at the La Jolla VA hospital in the Veterans Service Office, serves as OCW chairman for The American Legion Department of California, OCW chairman for San Diego’s American Legion District 22, and also as assistant service officer with San Diego’s American Legion District 22. Farrand is a Legionnaire at Chula Vista Post 434 in the South County San Diego area.
Drake gave background about the grant, which had initially been a request for $9,000 to provide comfort item support to homeless veterans at the annual San Diego Stand Down each summer. OCW is dedicated to mental, physical and recreational rehabilitation for wounded, injured and ill military personnel and veterans of military service.
Drake had traveled to San Diego a few days earlier, to participate as a trainer and instructor at an American Legion College session. He stayed an extra few days to announce formally and present the first partial delivery of donated OCW items at the La Jolla VA hospital. About a quarter of the donation had arrived, filling backpacks with essential hygiene products such as toiletries, shaving cream, razors, deodorant, washcloths, and towels — all of which make life without a home base a little better for homeless veterans. Drake put the total price for the donated items as adding up to about $8,200.
Farrand described how much participation in this endeavor had touched him. As a former homeless veteran, this event is close to my heart, Farrand said. These items will help other homeless veterans at Stand Down in San Diego this summer and those who come to the VA hospital here in La Jolla.
The big ticket item is the 250 bus passes, Drake said, which cost $1,500. Drake negotiated a discount from San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System; purchasing day bus passes, typically $7 a piece, for a Legion price tag of $6 each. The total Legion donation includes $1,000 in VA coupon books, which are provided to those with a demonstrated need for financial assistance.
We do our best to minimize the pain, Drake said. The rest of the donated items were expected to arrive later in May.
Cynthia Abair, Acting Director, appeared on behalf of the hospital to acknowledge the significance of the event. This is an awesome donation, Abair said. We really appreciate it. She explained further that transportation is a big issue for homeless veterans, which affects the hospital’s operations as well. Homeless veterans who have been patients but lack adequate means of transportation will delay departure from the medical center, even when they are cleared medically to leave. Having these bus passes translates into freed-up beds for those other veterans who need to receive in-hospital care.
The full donation will total 200 outfitted backpacks, 100 bags for homeless veterans and 100 bags for women veterans. (The packs for females include feminine hygiene products.) Farrand noted that the backpacks would be color-coded for easy recognition by volunteers supplying the bags to veterans in need, with black bags for men and pastel bags for women.
Drake discussed the fact that the most significant growth in the homeless veteran population has been among women who have served, and also that the number of homeless veterans, in general, has increased substantially since 2001. Drake said of the VA hospital in La Jolla, They know if they come here, they’ll receive care.
Derek Maravilla, acting chief of Voluntary Services at the hospital, observed how important the hospital volunteers are, including their participation in coordinating grant requests. We couldn’t do this without our volunteers, Maravilla said. We are super blessed to have Sunny and Susie here. Maravilla was referring to Susie Tozier, of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 6, and past President of the Department of California American Legion Auxiliary. Tozier is among lead liaisons for District 22’s Legion activities at the hospital.
This was the first OCW grant announced and awarded in California this year. According to Drake, more OCW grants will be coming to California from The American Legion headquarters over the next few months.