General History and Information of a Stand Down

In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment.

Today, Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. Homeless veterans are brought together in a single location for one to three days and are provided access to the community resources needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives. In the military, Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being. Today’s Stand Down affords the same opportunity to homeless veterans.

In times of war, exhausted combat soldiers requiring brief periods to rest and recover are removed from the field of combat to a place of relative safety and security. The military term Stand Down is used for such an action. Homeless veterans in this country are not unlike soldiers in combat, living in the frequently hostile streets and surviving by their wits. Life on the street is both dangerous and debilitating. Every day the homeless veteran must continue to “do battle.”  Adversaries of the homeless include lack of shelter, unemployment, physical and emotional disabilities, legal difficulties, substance abuse, and hopelessness. These adversaries create a self-destructive cycle leading to complete withdrawal from mainstream American society.

The first Stand Down was designed in 1988 under the auspices of the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego (VVSD) to provide coordinated, comprehensive services to homeless veterans over a three-day period at one site. This service model was designed to bridge many of the physical and psychological barriers between service providers and recipients.  Primary emphasis was placed on the creation of a community in which homeless veterans are treated with respect and given the opportunity to relax, interact, and form ties with peers and volunteers while receiving much needed specific services.  Stand Down has helped thousands of homeless veterans since its inception in 1988 and has been replicated in states all over the United States. There were 120 stand downs during a one year period spanning 2012-2013.  The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is a nonprofit organization resource for organizations such as ours to turn to for information about homeless veterans in this country.

Information via: Veterans Village of San Diego website and their Stand Down Operating Manual

Hundreds of homeless veterans are provided with a broad range of necessities including food, clothing, medical, legal and mental health assistance, job counseling and referral, and most importantly, companionship and camaraderie. It is a time for the community to connect with the homeless veteran population and address this crisis that affects each and every town, city and state in this country.

The hand up — not a handout — the philosophy of Stand Down is carried out through the work of hundreds of volunteers and organizations throughout the nation.

Many homeless veterans have suffered years of chronic or recurring readjustment issues since ending their military service, issues often inadequately addressed by traditional services to assist veterans. This is due in part to a lack of structured and effective collaboration among agencies, forcing veterans to go from one agency to another in efforts to access the various resources they need.

This lack of efficient support from traditional veteran services has led to homeless veterans’ mistrust of the very government agencies and large institutions created to help them. A Stand Down brings together various agencies and service providers to provide a comprehensive system that encourages and assists homeless veterans to overcome their distrust and feelings of isolation with the knowledge that this event promises to address multiple problems at one time and place. It provides a safe environment in which they can connect with people who have shared experiences and cultivate hope that they can rebuild their lives.

Hundreds of caring volunteers and professionals give of their time and expertise to address the unique needs of homeless veterans. Committees formed specifically to put on the event stage most Stand Downs. Veteran service organizations, National Guard and Reserve units, homeless shelter programs, health care providers, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Labor staffs, veteran-helping-veteran programs, and concerned citizens from the community organize and stage the events.

Stand Downs most often occur over a two- or three-day period, although there are an increasing number of one-day events. Some are held indoors, but the majority are held on football fields, in parks or other wide-open spaces.

There is no specific formula to plan and hold a Stand Down. In fact, each community adds its own uniqueness to a Stand Down. Some offer basic services, while others offer more by including entertainment and cultural activities to their programs. Some Stand Downs are re-created to follow a regimented, military-style program, which is familiar and comforting to the veteran, while others create an atmosphere of empowerment to the extent of electing officers among the homeless veterans.

All it really takes for a community to organize a Stand Down is a group of dedicated volunteers committed to helping homeless veterans improve their situation.

Your contribution or volunteer time would be greatly appreciated by the local Stand Down committee. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans maintains an active list of scheduled Stand Downs across the nation, including contact information.

If there is not a Stand Down scheduled in a community near you, you might want to help organize a planning committee to assist the homeless veterans in your area. Please contact us for information concerning homeless veteran providers and advocates in your area.