What is 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 107,000 homeless veterans on any given night “combat” life on the streets. Homeless veterans are brought together in a single location forone 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.

What is the history of Stand Down?

The concept of Stand Down, as related specifically to the homeless veteran crisis, was the brainchild of two Vietnam Veterans, Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison, with the support of Vietnam Veterans of San Diego. The first Stand Down was held in San Diego during the summer of 1988. The popularity of the event has steadily grown from the original in 1988 to 190 throughout the nation each year. It is estimated that in 2009 alone more than 42,000 homeless veterans received assistance at Stand Downs.

What happens at a Stand Down?

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 — philosophy of Stand Down is carried out through the work of hundreds of volunteers and organizations throughout the nation.

Why this unique approach?

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.

Who organizes and delivers theses services?

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.

Where are Stand Downs held?

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.

What does it take to stage a Stand Down?

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.

What can I do to help?

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. Click this link for a list of upcoming Stand Downs.

Classification of Stand Down Events

In July 2002, the founders of Stand Down, Robert Van Keuren, Dr. Jon Nachison and Vietnam Veterans of San Diego, asked the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) to become the “keeper of the flame” and provide national leadership for the Stand Down movement Since the first Stand Down in San Diego in 1988, the program has become recognized as the most valuable outreach tool to help homeless veterans in the nation today.

NCHV has developed standards for classification of Stand Down events based on the different models currently in practice. Variations from the original program concept  — In terms of duration and the range of support services available — shape the developed program guidelines.

Stand Down program guidelines can be a valuable planning tool for event organizers. Though not every event will include all of the service elements required for official designation as a “Stand Down,” it is generally agreed that all outreach and assistance programs provide much needed support for homeless veterans. The hope is that event coordinators will endeavor to include more services as their programs evolve.

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