LEBANON — Thousands of Linn County residents lined Albany streets on Veterans Day to thank and honor family members and neighbors who have served in the military during times of peace and war.
Medals were polished and hundreds of American flags — held by marching soldiers or on floats — waved in the breeze. Marching bands played and the crowd cheered as armored vehicles passed by.
But for the less fortunate veterans like 56-year-old Peter Braithwaite of Lebanon, Thursday was actually a day to celebrate. He was given a warm coat just in time to ward off frigid winter weather.
Braithwaite who served in the Army from 1976 to 1978, was one of many veterans who showed up for the first Stand Down for Homeless Veterans held at the River Center.
“It’s great,” Braithwaite said. “I’m finding all kinds of good stuff.”
Braithwaite said he lives with a friend and is unemployed.
Volunteer Tasha Dodge was assisting Braithwaite and said he was reluctant to “take much stuff” even though there were numerous tables overloaded with clothing, food and hygiene products.
Dodge said she was helping out, but her husband, Mark, is a veteran and was also going to get help.
Sarah Hilton spearheaded the project for the Community Services Consortium and said planning started in February.
She said there 56 service providers, from the Veterans Administration to energy assistance and even free mobile dental services.
“There are hundreds of homeless veterans in rural areas, such as Sweet Home, who can’t get to VA service centers in Salem or Portland,” Hilton said. “We’ve brought representatives of those services here, under one roof to help them make connections. Although this is targeted for homeless veterans, it’s actually for all veterans.”
Transportation was provided for veterans in Albany, Lebanon and Sweet Home.
Veterans were also treated to a hot or cold breakfast.
Monty Cole, 54, was an Army combat engineer stationed in Germany in 1979-80, who has been homeless off and on for 10 years.
He has battled alcoholism, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has had run-ins with the law, but he’s now clean and sober and living in an apartment, thanks to the HUD program’s Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing.
Cole was a volunteer Thursday, helping others get to the right service providers.
“I have worked mostly as a laborer,” Cole said. “It’s hard for the homeless to hold down a job. You have to be clean and dress properly, which is hard to do when you’re living on the streets.”
Cole said he has received “a lot of help” and he wanted to give back. He hoped to act as a conduit because “many homeless veterans don’t want to come in and deal with their issues. It’s easier to live on the streets.”
Al Hough and his wife, Julie, live in a fifth-wheel trailer near Lebanon and learned of Thursday’s event by accident.
“We were coming down to see about getting some energy assistance,” the 62-year-old former Vietnam POW said. “We were surprised when we saw all of this.”
After a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, they were excited to take advantage of the free dental services.
“I used to be a mechanic,” Hough said. “I’m on dialysis three days a week. This is a great turnout and a great service to all veterans.”
Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker welcomed everyone to the event and thanked the service providers.
“Being a veteran is a special badge you all get to wear,” said Tucker, a Navy veteran himself.
He encouraged the homeless to make themselves known to the local service providers because it’s important the county has an accurate accounting annually. Some programs to help them are funded based on those numbers, he said.
Victor Kuhns, president and CEO of Vets Helping Vets HQ, encouraged the veterans to stop by and get “a hand up, not a handout. We want to help you get on your feet and into a productive part of the community.”
He added, “This is your day. You are here to shine.”