Kern County veterans have served their country with honor, but somewhere along the way, some have fallen on hard times. Nearly one-fifth of the entire homeless population in California are veterans, according to the California Veterans Assistance Foundation. There is help available for those who are struggling, and on Thursday, it's as simple as going to the park.
The 14th annual Veterans Stand Down event is underway at Stramler Park, designed to be a one-stop shopping for struggling veterans to get the help they need. It's helped a number of struggling veterans in the past, many of whom are now donating their time to help others. Some of those volunteer veterans will tell you there's sometimes a new war that starts once you leave active duty.
"They get rejected by their families, rejected by society, and they go and get into survival mode," said Michael Hikel, a formerly homeless veteran.
"You don't see it coming, its a gradual thing, but once you're there you know you got a problem," said Dave Posey, another formerly homeless veteran.
It's a war with its own kind of casualties.
"You get behind on some bills and then you kind of panic about it, but then you can't pay it, so then you become numb to it," Hikel said.
"I started working like everyone does when they get out and I had a rough time adjusting," Posey said.
But it wasn't until they went to a Veterans Stand Down event when they learned help was available - food and clothing, housing, job counseling, educational help, and more.
"It's an opportunity for veterans in our community to come together and meet with each other and learn what services and benefits they're eligible for," said Deborah Johnson, Chairperson of the Kern County Veterans Stand Down Committee.
It's help and services many veterans don't know is out there, and organizers say it's contributing to a very real veteran homelessness problem. Approximately 180 homeless veterans live in Bakersfield alone, not including those living in poverty.
"We also know there's a large population of veterans living in our community who are low income, so they struggle everyday with food, clothing, employment, and education," said Johnson.
It's a chance for those in need to get the help they deserve. Camaraderie between veterans who are determined not to leave anyone behind.
"I don't care if you're a 20-something-year-old veteran or a 60-year-old veteran. When you're a veteran, you're a veteran," Hikel said.
The Veterans Stand Down event starts at 8 a.m. and goes until 3 p.m. at Stramler Park at 3805 Chester Avenue. The event is only open to veterans and their families and admission is free.