Annual event offers homeless, destitute veterans services, respite
By Michelle Knight
Jacob and Rex Belisle
MICHELLE KNIGHT/Acorn Newspapers Five years ago, Rex Belisle and his wife, April, were addicted to crystal meth and living in bushes behind Wagon Wheel Road in Oxnard.
Three of their four children had been taken away and adopted by other families, and the couple was on the verge of losing their fourth child, Jacob, to adoption.
But not long after the Belisles attended the Ventura County Stand Down that summer, Rex began to think about change.
“It put the bug in my head because I knew I was tired of being on the streets,” Belisle, 40, said last week about the annual socialservice event for war veterans. Belisle is an Army veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Several months later, he and April checked into drug and alcohol treatment programs and began living in homeless shelters.
Belisle attended Stand Down the following year and cleared up his legal problems. He was ordered to perform community service instead of paying the more than $70,000 in misdemeanor fees he had racked up. Not long afterward, Belisle enrolled in Oxnard College to become a certified addiction treatment counselor.
He earned his certificate and began working in 2008 for Alternative Action Programs, an outpatient treatment clinic in Oxnard.
April, too, has been clean and sober for four years. She works as a minister’s assistant at a Ventura church that connects drug and alcohol addicts with community services.
In the meantime, the couple had a fifth child, Pyper, now 3.
The couple kicked their drug habit in time to preserve their parental rights over Jacob, now 18. Jacob lives in foster care but regularly visits his parents.
Belisle credits Stand Down with helping him turn his life around.
“It saved my life,” he said.
The 18th annual Ventura County Stand Down, which runs July 30 to Aug. 1, in Ventura will provide veterans with food, clothing, showers, a haircut and safe place to sleep for three days.
Veterans will have access to medical and dental services, eye exams and glasses. They can take care of legal problems at a superior court set up on Friday.
Other services include mental health counseling, housing and job assistance. All Stand Down services are free.
Organizers have even arranged for free transportation to and from Stand Down for veterans in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties.
Claire Hope has been the driving force behind Stand Down for the past 18 years. Belisle praised her for her dedication to war veterans.
“It’s an amazing thing for someone like that to take on such a big responsibility,” he said.
Hope, a retired human resources manager whose husband, father and son have served in the military, feels a debt of gratitude to veterans. Inspired by a Stand Down she happened upon in Long Beach in 1991, she took on the mammoth challenge of organizing the event in Ventura County.
The first Ventura County Stand Down debuted in 1993.
Hope, 62, enlists the help of some 300 volunteers and commits the better part of a year to planning and organizing Stand Down, a military term referring to the time in which a soldier can relax. solider’s chance.
But, Hope said, it’s worth the effort. “It’s very rewarding and very exhausting.”
She said Stand Down brings awareness to the community of the numerous war veterans who are in need or are homeless.
As many as 40 percent of the county’s homeless are war veterans, according to the Ventura County Stand Down website.
“My goodness, we have vets sleeping on the streets of America,” Hope said.
A Camarillo resident, Hope doesn’t know exactly how many veterans Stand Down has helped onto their feet over the years, perhaps as many as 3,500 veterans and their families. Some gain a stable footing and move away to be closer to family.
But a couple dozen or more who have cleaned up their lives return to Stand Down to serve as volunteers, like Belisle. At his request, his company set up a table he manned at Stand Down last year. Belisle also reaches out to veterans at sober-living homes and elsewhere, telling them about the social services he learned of through Stand Down.
Belisle wants to help other veterans just as Stand Down helped him.
“Where would I be today?” Belisle said. “I don’t know but chances are I’d be dead.”
The Ventura County Stand Down is scheduled to run July 30-Aug. 1 at the California Army National Guard Armory, 1270 Arundell Ave., Ventura.
For more information, visit venturacountystanddown.com.