The 21st Annual Veterans Stand Down resource fair in Bakersfield will begin Thursday morning with more than 100 organizations providing resources and a temporary veterans courthouse to reduce misdemeanors and traffic tickets to community service.
The event is being held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Stramler Park. Kern County organizations including Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and the Housing Authority will be available for all veterans who may need help. While the event is tailored to help veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, all veterans are invited to attend, said Heather Kimmel, assistant executive director of the Housing Authority.
Free breakfast, lunch, groceries and pet food will also be available to veterans, as well as clothing, shoes and backpacks. Veterans will be able to see doctors and receive medical services as well, Kimmel said.
In the afternoon, Judge Louie Vega from Lamont will review 106 cases — all of which are misdemeanors or traffic tickets — affecting 36 veterans at the temporary courthouse. Deputy District Attorney Craig Smith and Public Defender Robin Walters will assist with the cases as well, according to a Kern County Veterans Stand Down press release.
Smith and Walters met Wednesday morning to establish the guidelines for Thursday's court hearings, including how many hours of community service each veteran will receive, Kimmel said.
"All of that pretty much gets figured out ahead of time," Kimmel said. Most of the 36 veterans complete their community service during setup on Wednesday. Others may be given more time, so they'll have to stay back Thursday and help clean up, Kimmel said.
Former Marine Raymond Ramirez volunteered Wednesday morning to help set up the event. He's one of the 36 veterans taking advantage of the veterans court Thursday afternoon. As part of his community service, Ramirez packed homeless packs that include sleeping bags, warm weather clothes and tarps.
Mark Murillo, a previously homeless Marine veteran, also volunteered Wednesday to work off his community service. He prepared the homeless packs and stacked them in preparation for Thursday.
Not all veterans attending Stand Down will qualify for or need to appear at Veterans Court, as court appearances have already been scheduled by appointment, the release said.
“Veterans Court allows veterans an opportunity to get their fines dismissed for community service and, if ordered, to receive mental health assessments, counseling and/or treatment,” said Deb Johnson, president and CEO of California Veterans Assistance Foundation. Many veterans, especially those who are homeless or at-risk, may not be able to pay traffic or misdemeanor fines, she said.