Stand Downs

Recently, after years of searching, my husband and I purchased our first house. It was so exciting to become homeowners and, literally, every day we wake up and marvel that we live in this beautiful place. We realize how lucky we are. Many veterans, tens of thousands of them, aren’t nearly as lucky. Instead of waking up every day as homeowners, they wake up in their parents’ basement, on their friend’s couch, in a shelter, in the front seat of their car, or even under a tarp deep in the woods. Thankfully, organizations are working hard to combat veteran homelessness and, this week, I’ll be covering a few of them, starting with Stand Downs.

Started in San Diego in 1988, “Stand Downs” are based on the Vietnam era term for R&R. Local events occurring across the country, they are designed to connect homeless veterans, and those at risk of being homeless, to necessary resources. Due to the localized nature, the resources available at each Stand Down vary, but generally fall into these basic categories:

Food: a hot meal, snacks, or non-perishable items the veteran can take with him/her

Health and Hygiene: these services include everything from portable showers and free haircuts to dental checkups and free clothing

Employment: often businesses will hold a job fair in conjunction with the Stand Down, providing referrals and even hiring people on the spot

Housing: most Stand Downs offer free accommodations during the Stand Down, as well as assistance procuring housing vouchers and other items needed for long term housing solutions

Benefits: counselors are on hand to explain and assist with various benefits, from social security to driver’s licenses and voter registration, VA disability claims assistance, and GED enrollment

Legal: many lawyers provide pro bono services to help with issues such as warrants or scheduling court appointments, some Stand Downs even hold a Homeless Veterans Court on site

All services are provided by a combination of federal, state, volunteer, and private organizations, and are paid for through a series of grants, donations, and fundraising events. All services are co-located in a single area during the Stand Down to provide veterans as much access as possible to the resources and prevent veterans from having to bounce from place to place. Most Stand Downs also offer free transportation from designated areas or are held at easily accessible locations, such as the local fairgrounds.

The events usually take place over two or three days, with smaller, single day, Stand Downs in between. (These smaller events may also be called Homeless Veteran Resources Fairs, Homeless Veteran Health Fairs, or Homeless Veteran Job Fairs.) A general list of upcoming Stand Downs, as well as details for anyone interested in organizing a Stand Down in your community (including where to find grant money to fund a Stand Down), can be found on the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans page. However, several areas, such as Arizona and North Florida, have created their own websites as well. Local veteran organization posts, such as VFW and American Legion, and local newspapers are also good places to locate details on upcoming Stand Downs in your area.

© 2014 – 2020, Sarah Maples LLC. All rights reserved.

Sarah Maples is a former Air Force intelligence officer and an Afghanistan veteran. She is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in veteran, military, and defense topics.

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