More than 150 homeless veterans from the region gathered for Delaware Valley Stand Down in Levittown, Pennsylvania, this past weekend.
The three-day retreat offered checkups, live music and a chance to connect with the Veterans Affairs office for services.
And, like the people it serves, Delaware Valley Stand Down has had many homes in 23 years. It first set up camp at the Lighthouse Field in Northeast Philadelphia, then moved to the Armory and VA hospital for a few years. It's been held in Levittown for eight years, in a field behind the library.
But another move is in the forecast. Bucks County has a new, year-round plan for the 130-acre plot and will not be able to host the event in 2017, said Bucks County commissioners in a statement.
Stand Down is gathering signatures for a petition asking the county officials to reconsider.
Bringing vets into the fold
Volunteer Bruce Fritz found the group back when he was homeless in the '90s. These days, Stand Down serves about 40 percent of the people it once did, and Fritz said he hopes that indicates fewer veterans are in need. But for those who remain, he said, the secret to Stand Down's success is that it brings the VA to vets — not the other way around.
"What it is, is when you're going through a hardship, you are normally down on yourself," explained Fritz. "So, we have everything in one place instead of telling someone, 'OK, you got to go to the VA hospital, this and that.'
"When they come here, there are professionals to help the vet right there on site," he said.
Executive director Ed Speller said most participants are usually bused in from Philadelphia and Chester counties. So, he wonders if that made it a low priority for the county.
The commissioners' statement doesn't address that.
Under Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy, who once represented the area in Congress, has volunteered since 2007 and lives nearby in Bristol. He says if Stand Down must move, he hopes it will remain close.
"Serving two deployments after 9/11 and coming back from Iraq and having 19 guys that didn't come home with me, it always weighs on me. And part of that is a duty to make it count and do more for your brother and sister veterans," he said.
"We hope that it remains here or somewhere else in Bucks County because we want to be known as the most veteran friendly county in the nation," he said.
In a previous version of this story, the group was misidentified and the number of veterans it serves was misstated.