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Jack Sharp served in the Navy in Vietnam

Jack Sharp, right, who served in the Navy in Vietnam, looks for clothes for a homeless veteran friend he said doesn’t like to come out much. Sharp was homeless for a time when he first left the service but, “at 23 you don’t know you’re homeless,” Sharp said. “I’d wake up in doorways or on the street but I was OK.” After a few years traversing the country, Sharp settled into a normal routine, but he said many vets have trouble coping after they return.

CASPER, Wyo. — Haircuts, flu shots, a free meal and bottomless cups of coffee were just a few of the many services offered to homeless vets Thursday at the Casper Homeless Veterans “Stand Down” held at the Wyoming National Guard facility.

“‘Stand down’ comes from the old military stand down, where soldiers would come in for a hot meal, to rest up and to just get rejuvenated, and to get recharged before going back out,” said Will Banks of the Sheridan Department of Veterans Affairs. “It’s just a way to bring people in to get everybody replenished.”

During the day-long event, about 10 military veterans made their way through tables heaped with handouts and surplus Army supplies and staffed by VA employees and volunteers from both Casper and Sheridan.

Every veteran coming in had experienced at least one bout with homelessness sometime in his or her life.

Counting the number of veterans who find themselves homeless on a given date nationwide is a tricky task, according to Banks, so data on the progress of this initiative is often anecdotal or subject to quick and seasonal changes. “It’s just hard to come up with good, accurate numbers,” Banks said.

But since 2009, when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced its six-year plan to end veteran homelessness, Banks said the numbers he has seen have decreased. National VA estimates suggest the number of homeless veterans has dropped from about 107,000 in 2009 to about 67,000 today. Those numbers were 131,000 in 2008 and 154,000 in 2007.

Banks said his own VA in Sheridan has instituted a “No Wrong Door” policy as part of the national initiative, meaning any veteran who shows up at the VA’s human resources department looking for a dentist, for instance, will be immediately referred to the right place.

This was the second “Stand Down” event held in Casper. Banks estimated last year’s event served about 20 veterans.