The men and women who have served and defended our country are in trouble.

An increasing number of veterans are finding themselves homeless. Throughout Indiana, officials counted 530 veterans who were experiencing homelessness during the annual point-in-time county, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number is likely much, much higher, even here in Johnson County.

“The (Disabled American Veterans) told me there are probably 700 to 900 homeless or at-risk veterans just in the county,” said Kathy Ballou, a Franklin resident and volunteer working with area veterans. “Nobody believes it, because they’re invisible.”

To give back to those veterans who are struggling, Ballou and others are planning an event to provide health screenings, dental services, eye care and other resources for the community. Johnson County’s first Stand Down will be held in the fall as an outreach for homeless and at-risk veterans.

In addition to health services, attendees can speak with Veterans Affairs representatives about benefits, have their hair cut by barbers and talk with representatives from Work Force One about job placement opportunities. They’ll each receive a “buddy bag,” filled with hygiene supplies, a blanket, towel, wash cloth, warm clothing and other needs.

Everyone will sit down for a hot meal.

“We owe them something. They’re struggling inside, and they just need someone to show them they’re important still,” Ballou said. “They gave up a lot for us.”

Stand Downs are events that have been held across the nation, during which Veterans Affairs staff and volunteers provide food, clothing and health screenings to homeless and at-risk veterans.

They can receive referrals for health care, housing solutions, employment, substance use treatment, mental health counseling and other essential services.

Caring for local veterans has become a passion for Ballou. In 2021, she spearheaded the effort to have the county host The Wall That Heals, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. that travels to communities throughout the country.

Thousands of people came to the showing.

So when she first learned about Stand Down events through a friend who had seen one in California, she felt strongly about planning one locally.

“I had never heard of it, so I started doing some research and I found out what you have to provide to provide a Stand Down. I started there, and that led me to the (Disabled American Veterans),” she said.

In pursuing a Stand Down, she reached out to the state Disabled American Veterans organization, who agreed to help her put the event together. The organization had connections to doctors, dentists and other health care professionals, as well as important resources for veterans, so they’ve taken on putting that aspect together.

Ballou’s focus has been on collecting items to distribute to those who attend the Stand Down. In a storage locker in Franklin, she had amassed a mountain of sleeping bags, backpacks, blankets and other items for the veterans.

Toothbrushes, shampoo and other hygiene items will be distributed. Ballou is also collecting winter gear such as coats, gloves and hats.

All of it will go into a handy bag the veterans can keep with them.

“We’re thinking that if they have a backpack, they won’t walk off and leave their belongings, then have to start all over,” Ballou said. “A lot of them lose what they have because they walk off and leave it, and when they come back, everything is gone.”

The Stand Down will be held sometime in September or October, though the exact date is still being finalized to coordinate with the schedules of the health care officials taking part.

Between then and now, Ballou is working to collect items and donations to support the effort. People can contact her for donation pickup or to arrange a drop-off. Monetary donations can be mailed to Ballou in the name of Stand Down.

“Hopefully, these people will get a little bit of food, some clean clothes, some services, maybe get them a job and find them some housing,” Ballou said. “It’ll all be in one place and get everything they need.”


Stand Down

What: An event to support homeless veterans by providing them with medical, dental and vision services, other resources, food and supplies.

When: Planned for a later date in September or October

How to help: Organizers are collecting items such as hygiene supplies, small blankets, towels, washclothes, clean warm clothing and other supplies. Call Kathy Ballou at 317-513-4566 for donation pickup or drop-off. Monetary donations can be mailed to Stand Down, 1686 Preidt Circle, Franklin, IN 46131.