Helping Homeless Veterans

Catherine Talarico

Thanks to the inspiration of Sister Donna Schmitt, CHM, for the past 10+ years my sister JoAnne and I have been a part of a committee that works throughout the year organizing the annual Des Moines Homeless Veterans Stand Down. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs website states that “Stand Downs are typically one- to three-day events providing supplies and services to homeless Veterans...They are collaborative events, coordinated between local VA Medical Centers, other government agencies and community-based homeless service providers.”

In Des Moines, each September starting on a Friday evening and ending on Sunday afternoon, tents pop up in a state-owned grassy field where services, supplies and a place to stay are provided for the area homeless population. In 2017, on the first day of the “Stand Down”, community members donated thousands of new or gently used clothing items which were given out for free. The second day the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority raffled off monthly bus tickets.

JoAnne ( at right) and I were responsible for the haircutting and massage tents. We had volunteers from Great Clips, Elements, and Trixie’s as well as a woman barber from Ames. Over the weekend, 184 people left with new and improved hair styling while 17 received renewed energy through chair massages given by three massage therapists. Next year we hope to have additional  therapists so that more folks can receive that healing touch.

Other services provided during the weekend included dentistry, employment assistance, medical services, HIV testing, telephone calls, showers, IRS/income tax help, legal assistance, spiritual guidance, veterans benefits and more. Plus nourishing meals were provided each day. We try to adjust from year to year to meet the needs.

Money is scarce so volunteers spend part of the year fund raising with cookie sales, pancake breakfasts, steak suppers and other events. The Humility of Mary Peoples’ Investment Fund also helps with necessary support

Anyone in Des Moines who is homeless or on the brink of homelessness can attend the event. And many have so far. The line to the last "Stand Down" was so long it wrapped around itself. Many of these people have nothing. The hard work is worth it just to see their joyful reactions. We have been able to help a lot of people.

To find out where the nearest “Stand Down” is in your area click this link:

Sr. Catherine Talarico and Sr. Joanne Talarico are "Sister Sisters" - meaning they are both biological sisters AND religious sisters of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary.