Homeless veterans get help with war on poverty

Erick Johnson | 5/29/2014, 9 a.m.
Raymond Leite, served in the Vietnam War. But his real battle has been going on much longer in Miami’s toughest ...
Regionald Spann sifts through clothes Sunday during Operation Stand Down at American Legion Post 29. Photo by Erick Johnson

Veterans packed large Army green sacks with dozens of packaged food, canned goods and household items.

On Saturday, Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman presided over a makeshift court as veterans disposed of misdemeanor cases such as petty theft, criminal mischief and traffic infractions. The legal team also worked to expunge or seal some cases, which can be barriers to jobs and housing.

The veterans were also treated to entertainment with singer Connie Francis performing her hits to encourage the veterans.

Stand Down is a term that is used during in times of war. Exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of security and safety.

The organization began ‘Stand Downs’ in San Diego in 1988. Twenty-five years later, there are more than 200 Stand Downs held every year throughout the country. While many Stand Downs are a one-day event, this is the second year Miami has emulated the three-day San Diego model, according to the group’s website. The operation was featured in 2010 on CBS’s "60 Minutes" news magazine show.

Today, an estimated 67,000 homeless veterans live on the street, according to the organization’s website.

Roberto Romero, 54, who served in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf crisis in 1989 and Iraq in 2001 was a volunteer at the event. A Liberty City resident, Romero was once homeless before seeking help for depression and substance abuse after being discharged for injuring his back during a parachute landing in Iraq.

This was Romero’s first year volunteering, but he said he will serve again next year.

“I saw the opportunity to give something back,” he said. “I feel a lot of compassion because they are veterans in need.”