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It's rare that an annual event is held in hopes that it will get smaller year after year, but that's the goal of the Homeless Veteran Stand Down.

"We're hoping to end veteran homelessness as time goes on," said Kristy Hamilton, event organizer and a supervisor with the Veterans Affair's homeless program.

This year's Stand Down was Saturday afternoon at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City. It ran concurrently there with Recovery Day, an event by Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness.

Even though the VA does outreach all year, Hamilton said, this particular event helps "draw out the veterans that we're not seeing."

One homeless veteran, John Luque, has come to Stand Down for several years, and they've been "very, very helpful in regards to assisting with resources, benefits and/or direction," he said.

He receives housing assistance, he said, and four friends he brought to the event — who are also homeless vets — signed up for a housing voucher Saturday. One of them, Luque said, also found out he qualifies for disability benefits.

The event brings community providers "together in one place," Hamilton said, and makes it easier for veterans seeking aid. Some services, like dental services offered at the event, aren't always available through the VA, she added.

Veterans at Stand Down were connected to contacts for housing, legal advice, educational services, vocational rehabilitation opportunities and medical services, Luque said. There's also a sense of camaraderie.

"Everyone is happy to be here," Luque said. "These are my veteran brothers and sisters. It's exciting to see us get the help that we need."

Community involvement was vital for this year's Stand Down success, said homeless program director Jennifer Steele.

"We want to find every veteran who is homeless or at-risk for homelessness and ... link them to our resources in the community," Steele said.

Hamilton said she and Steele review a list of about 17 names of known homeless or chronically homeless veterans in the area each week to try to coordinate efforts to reach them and connect them to housing and services.

Steele said that number would be higher if they considered all the homeless veterans who don't qualify for health benefits.

Organizers advertised the event through posters, community providers, public service announcements on the radio and word of mouth. Fifty-six homeless veterans received services at the event.

"The vets who are also suffering from alcohol addiction as well as mental illness, they're a large part of our community," said Recovery Day chair Meg Griggs.

The USARA event is meant to celebrate people who recover from substance abuse and mental health disorders, said USARA executive director Mary Jo McMullen.

"When there's treatment and services and support, whole families are benefiting ... and our community benefits," McMullen said.

Griggs and McMullen say the cause hits home because they're both in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol — Griggs for nine years and McMullen for 30 years.

"We need to continue to address addiction as a healthcare issue," McMullen said.

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