An increase in homeless veterans at in San Diego over the weekend included troops coming back from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, according to Jon Natchison, clinical psychologist. He has been working with homeless veterans for more than 30 years and is one of the founders of the event.
The three-day relief effort was held at San Diego High School, sponsored by Veterans Village of San Diego. Many other organizations contributed.
Natchison started Stand Down in 1988 with Robert Van Keuren, who is based in New York. Both are Vietnam veterans. The exercise is described as a “hand up, not a hand out.”
Stand Down served 1,003 people this year. That's up from 947 last year. More than 3,000 volunteers helped. Veterans were offered showers, dental care, a comparatively safe and comfortable place to sleep in tents and counseling for alcohol and drug abuse. Some legal assistance and job counseling also were provided, as well as entertainment. On Saturday night, veterans were looking forward to hearing one of their brothers—with no arms—perform on stage.
“He plays with his toes!” they told Patch.
Camp Pendleton Marines set up the tents. The Department of Veterans Affairs provided medical services. The Department of Motor Vehicles had representatives working there, and there were public defenders available too. Businesses such as participated.
Volunteers came from New York to observe the effort. Stand Down events happen all throughout the United States.
“Can you feel the serenity?” a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair asked a Patch reporter. “Tennessee” lost his leg while serving in Vietnam.
The campus did indeed have a calm feel to it, as many people napped in tents. There was a camaraderie. People were all helping each other. Some sat in recovery groups. Some gathered to hear about possible jobs.
At Sunday's graduation, there were tears among both the homeless and the volunteers.
About 30 people were accepted into transitional housing through Veterans Village of San Diego. In order to qualify, they must agree to stay sober.
However, this week, most of the homeless veterans who attended Stand Down will be back out on the streets again. They told Patch that it’s a tough life.
“More people should be helping the homeless,” Tennessee said. He said he doesn’t feel sorry for himself, though.
“The Big Man upstairs wakes me up every morning,” he said. “I see a lot of other people out there worse off than I am.”