AUGUSTA — Robert Lindie looked out nervously at the crowd of dozens of homeless veterans gathered in the theater at the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus, uncomfortable speaking publicly but doing so nonetheless, to give his message to the men and women who now sat where he had sat just three years ago.

“I was sitting four rows back,” the Augusta man, who walks with a cane, said as the 20th annual Homeless Veteran Stand Down got underway Saturday morning. “I was homeless. I had no place to go, and no way to get there. I was kind of at the end of my rope.”

Knowing Lindie was a veteran, a friend had asked him whether he wanted to go to Togus. He said “not really” but relented, and he went. He later was admitted to the veterans’ hospital and, after three or four weeks there during which he said he “just needed to get my running gear in shape,” he moved into the Bread of Life Ministries’ Veterans Shelter in Augusta. Then Togus staff members helped him find an apartment, also in Augusta, where he has lived since. Sober for three years, he volunteers at Togus, including Saturday at the Homeless Veteran Stand Down, a daylong event in which military veterans from across the state can get free services as well as free clothing and other items.

“I like volunteering because that’s what makes the world go round,” he told his fellow veterans. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help, nothing at all. You’re in a good place. You’ve got to take that first step. And you know what, folks? This is a good first step.”

Veterans were offered free services or goods at 32 stations set up in multiple buildings of the Togus campus, including a wide array of health care services; transportation to and from Togus from designated pickup locations; child care; food and drinks; haircuts; boots and clothing; personal care items; women’s services; information on housing, employment, training and veteran benefits; legal services; assistance with taxes; flu shots; and food stamp and MaineCare applications. All of it was free.

Anthony Ward, who served in the Army in the early 1980s until a blasting cap blew his hand apart as he was setting up targets in the Mojave Desert, got a pair of reading glasses, underwent oral cancer screening, and inquired about getting dentures at the Stand Down on Saturday morning. He’s living in transitional housing with Veterans Inc. in Lewiston, after having lived at a Tedford shelter in Brunswick. Now he is looking for an apartment.

Ward said it was the first time he’d attended the Stand Down, which he said was “really cool.”

Tom Baker, who recently moved from Florida to Maine and who served in the Army from 1970 to 1973, said he’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and he came to Maine because he thought he could stay off drugs better in Maine.

Saturday he underwent oral cancer screening, was looking to set up a dental appointment, and visited a podiatrist to have his feet checked out.

“Stand down” is a military term that refers to active-duty personnel being taken off a battlefield to a safe place. Saturday’s annual event, according to organizers, is meant to allow homeless veterans to “stand down” from homelessness for a day, and to help them connect with services and supports to help end their homelessness.

Susie Whittington, a social worker who works with homeless veterans at Togus, applauded homeless veterans for coming and urged them, even though they didn’t want to ask for help, to let the roughly 200 volunteers and Togus staff at the event help them. She said she doesn’t want to see the homeless veterans back again next year, still homeless.

Dan Dunker, associate director of the VA at Togus, said 25 to 30 organizations had volunteers at the event. He told the homeless veterans, before they dispersed around the facility to get services, the goal was not just to give them a bit of information or an application for a program that might help them but, rather, to help them with their problems on the spot, or get them into programs that can help them.

“We’re going to take care of your business today. We’re not going to give you an application and send you on your way,” he said.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

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Twitter: kedwardskj