CNCounty News

Amnesty court highlights county’s role in veterans event

Kathleen Cramer (center) celebrates a county resolution honoring Manatee County Stand Down. Photo courtesy of Manatee County

Manatee County, Fla. celebrated a 25-year partnership Nov. 4 with an event aimed at connecting homeless residents — veteran and non-veteran alike — with critical resources. 

The county fairgrounds play host to a bevy of service providers and opportunities for residents to find or stabilize their housing during Stand Down Manatee. Additional services are open to veterans from neighboring counties. 

“It’s hard to list all the ways the county has partnered with us to make Stand Down a success,” said Kathleen Cramer, executive director of nonprofit Turning Points, which coordinates the event. 

“’Stand down’ is a military term, to say ‘Let’s stop for one day and rest,’ in a time of war,” Cramer said. “When you are unhoused or when you are struggling financially, it’s like a battle every day.” More than 34,000 veterans call Manatee County home. 

“Someone from the county attends all of our meetings, and as soon as the year starts, they reserve the buildings, the stage, the walkie talkies for use 10 months down the road,” Cramer noted.

The county veterans court is on site to help with unpaid court and traffic fines, as is the county’s veterans service office, medical providers and social service providers. In 2022, the amnesty court dismissed more than $22,000 in fines.

“Amnesty court gives our veterans an opportunity to literally sit across the table from the judge and explain their circumstances,” Cramer said. 

“The judges do such a wonderful job of understanding that these are folks and that when court costs and fines start, they tend to just build on each other. Last year, they were able to forgive fines that had kept one man from having a driver’s license for more than a decade.”

The county also offers a free shuttle to the fairgrounds from the downtown Bradenton transit station.

“I go every year,” Commissioner George Kruse said at the county Board’s Oct. 24 meeting. “It’s really a dynamic location, whether you’re a veteran or if you’re in need of services. It’s a great opportunity to not only reach out on a single day but to understand the services that are available year-round in Manatee County with the support of Turning Points and some of the other organizations.”

The event includes food, entertainment, speeches, haircuts and clothing distribution, and a total of more than 50 service providers on hand. The event took its inspiration from a stand down event in San Diego County, Calif. in 1988. 

“This is a chance for folks to come down and relax and for us to take care of them,” Cramer said, “and hopefully connect them to some pretty amazing services that we have throughout the county.”

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