Each fall, Wake County and its partners holds the Capital Area Veterans Stand Down at the South Wilmington Street Center, 1420 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh. The event connects local veterans with essential services, such as health care referrals, benefits consultation, legal education, mental health and substance abuse counsel, spiritual guidance, employment help, housing assistance and more. A full breakfast and lunch will be served, and showers and laundry machines will be available. The Stand Down is free and open to all veterans.
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.
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.
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.
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 residents organize and stage the events.
Stand Downs most often occur over a two- or three-day period, although there are increasing numbers 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 a list of upcoming Stand Downs on this site.
There is no specific formula to plan and hold a Stand Down. In fact, each community adds its own unique elements. 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.
What can I do to help?
Your contribution or volunteer time would be greatly appreciated. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website maintains an active list of scheduled Stand Downs across the nation, including contact information.