On any given night, an estimated 40,000 veterans are homeless in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Though the number of homeless veterans has declined in recent decades, the fact that so many veterans still lack this basic human necessity brings many emotions to mind: anger, frustration, heartbreak, compassion. And while the difficult reasons for veteran homelessness are as unique as each person, there is one easy reason to help this vulnerable population: being incredibly grateful that veterans dedicated years of their life to military service. One specific veteran homeless program is reaching out to homeless veterans to offer them a valuable hand up. It’s called a Stand Down. But what does Stand Down mean, and how can you be a part of one?
Stand Down a Veteran Homeless Program
Stand Down events originated from the minds and hearts of two Vietnam veterans, Robert Van Keuren and Jon Nachison, who held the first event in San Diego in 1988.
Their idea, to support Vietnam veterans facing homelessness, takes its name from a military term for a combat unit’s time to rest and recover during war. The goal was simply to provide a safe environment where struggling veterans could renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being.
Today, a Stand Down is a typically a three-day, two-night event — held annually in many communities across the nation — where federal, state and local organizations provide homeless veterans and their spouses with free, vital services, such as food, shelter, showers, haircuts, clothing, health screenings, benefits counseling, legal advice and referrals to a variety of other necessary services such as housing referrals, employment assistance, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment.
Though Stand Downs are usually organized by self-appointed community coalitions, any group can decide to hold a Stand Down. However, the VA’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans program assists with many of the events, providing services to more than 80,000 veterans across the nation annually. Often, these much-needed services are the catalyst that enables homeless veterans to re-integrate with mainstream society.
How Can Homeless Veterans Receive Help at Stand Downs?
If you’re reading this, we hope you have dependable access to the internet. If you’re a homeless veteran, who may only have periodic access to the web, be sure to check the schedule below now to know when a Stand Down will be happening near you.
We encourage homeless veterans to seek the aid of their local VA offices in person for info on benefits and events like Stand Downs. Anyone can find your local office with the help of this online directory from the VA.
Know a homeless veteran? Reach out to them when the next local Stand Down will be happening.
Note: Homeless veterans may be required to show a government-issued ID or otherwise register to participate in a Stand Down. Such registration usually helps organizers allocate the kind and amount of free services that are needed at the event and in the future.
How Can the Community Assist With Stand Down Events?
The Department of Veterans Affairs is dedicated to helping homeless veterans, however navigating the system that distributes those benefits can be complicated both for those who need help and those who want help.
Stand Downs are excellent opportunities for service organizations and local individuals (either other veterans or civilians) to do the most good in a shorter amount of time. Although, the feeling you’ll get knowing how important these services are, well, it just might inspire you to volunteer every year or whenever these events are nearby.
There are MANY ways that anyone can help by volunteering at a Stand Down. Check with the organization leading the event in your community to see what assistance is needed where and when.
Some of the tasks volunteers might be asked to perform include:
- Community outreach, such as phone calls and distributing fliers
- Sorting/handing out donations of clothing, food, etc.
- Greeting and registering participating veterans
- Set-up and break-down of tables, tents, other on-site amenities
- Supervising veterans’ pets while they receive services
Specialized skills like photography, hair-dressing, electrical work or veteran mentoring are also in high demand. Check with the event’s organizer for volunteer orientation meetings that will give you a better idea of how you can best contribute your time and talents.
Note: Depending on the organization leading the event, you may be required to complete a volunteer application and background check. A screening process is to ensure the safety of volunteers and homeless veterans alike.
Operation Stand Down Donations
Sometimes family, job and general life obligations leave little time to commit to helping a Stand Down in-person. If so, making donations of items or money are extremely helpful alternatives.
Check with the event leader to see what donations are most in need, but typically, you can expect personal items like these — which would be distributed to homeless veterans — will be greatly appreciated:
- New socks and underwear
- New or gently used jackets
- Sleeping bags
- Activated hand and body warmers
Find out what local groups may be helping the VA with a Stand Down by typing/saying “stand down program near me” into whatever online search tool you use. Your results could include specific wish-lists of additional personal items to be distributed. These kinds of items, which may be available for purchase at major retailers or online, usually include:
- Hand sanitizer
- Hygiene/toiletry items, such as
- Body wash/shampoo
- Wet wipes (alcohol-free)
- Period products
- Lip balm and sunscreen
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable, single-size foods and other snacks, like granola bars
If you aren’t able to donate physical items, in-demand services, or simply your time and muscle, you can always make a cash contribution to the group putting on the event.
Remember: No amount of assistance is too small to make a huge difference.
Where are the Stand Down Events Near You?
The following Stand Downs are scheduled through October 2021. New events are added regularly, so check the VA’s web page of events and contact phone numbers for veteran homeless program updates. A filter on the page allows you to search for events by date or state.
Use the contact phone numbers listed below to reach out to event organizers. You can also check with your local Veterans Administration offices for more details about event schedules, ways to volunteer, items to donate and more info.
Note: Some Stand Downs may require COVID-safe health protocols. Check with the point of contact for each event for any such requirements.
Veterans Stand Down Schedule 2021
- July 11 — Mankato, MN — 612-313-3246
- July 15 — McLaughlin, SD — 605-490-0029
- July 17 — Newport, WA — 509-319-7067
- July 23 — Orange, TX — 409-347-0124
- July 23 — Warsaw, IN — 800-360-8387, x71622
- July 29 — Rosebud, SD — 605-490-0029
- Aug. 6 — Abilene, TX — 432-466-3802
- Aug. 6 — Prestonsburg, KY — 304-529-9141
- Aug. 7 — Eureka, CA — 707-845-4788
- Aug. 13 — Rochester, NY — 585-463-2612
- Aug. 14 — Pinetop, AZ — 602-248-6040
- Aug. 18 — Tucson, AZ — 520-792-1450
- Aug. 20 — Gary, IN — 312-504-2668
- Aug. 20 — LaPorte, IN — 800-360-8387, x71622
- Aug. 26-27 — Chicago, IL — 708-202-4952
- Sept. 9-11 — Marysville, CA — 925-372-2455
- Sept. 10-13 — Antioch, CA — 925-372-2455
- Sept. 10 — Boston, MA — 617-839-6302
- Sept. 10 — Charlotte, NC — 704-726-5744
- Sept. 10 — Oklahoma City, OK — 405-456-1710
- Sept. 10 — Rapid City, SD — 605-490-8587
- Sept. 11 — Philadelphia, PA — 215-370-4442
- Sept. 11 — St. Augustine, FL — 352-215-6102
- Sept. 14 — Akron, OH — 216-391-0264, x48627
- Sept. 14 — Savannah, GA — 912-920-0214, x2100
- Sept. 15 — Elizabethtown, KY — 502-287-4176
- Sept. 15 — Stamford, NY — 518-626-5165
- Sept. 16 — Franklin, NC — 828-349-2171
- Sept. 16-19 — Vista, CA — 760-208-7246
- Sept. 17-19 — Des Moines, IA — 515-242-4666
- Sept. 17 — Dover, DE — 302-530-2786
- Sept. 17-19 — Huntsville, AL — 205-381-3902
- Sept. 17 — Portsmouth, OH — 740-773-1141, x6477
- Sept. 17 — Ridgecrest, CA — 760-608-9251
- Sept. 18 — Houston, TX — 713-791-1414, x27403
- Sept. 18 — Milwaukee, WI — 414-384-2000, x41276
- Sept. 18 — West Palm Beach, FL — 561-422-8223
- Sept. 22 — Horseheads, NY — 607-664-4362
- Sept. 22 — Huntington, WV — 304-529-9141
- Sept. 23 — Fayetteville, NC — 910-488-2120, x7238
- Sept. 23 — Miami, FL — 305-575-7000, x12513
- Sept. 24 — Beaumont, TX — 409-347-0124
- Sept. 24 — Cherry Hill, NJ — 267-809-5859
- Sept. 24 — Eugene, OR — 541-784-7362
- Sept. 24 — Greenville, SC — 864-299-1600, x2755
- Sept. 24 — Huntington Beach, CA — 562-355-8475
- Sept. 24 — Myrtle Beach, SC — 843-940-0850
- Sept. 24 — Poplar Bluff, MO — 573-778-4425
- Sept. 24 — Raleigh, NC — 919-286-0411
- Sept. 24 — Reno, NV — 775-786-7200, x6438
- Sept. 24 — Rocky Hill, CT — 203-479-8041
- Sept. 24 — Sioux Falls, SD — 605-681-5991
- Sept. 25 — Moses Lake, WA — 509-319-5332
- Sept. 29 — Buffalo, NY — 716-435-8403
- Sept. 30 — Everett, WA — 206-719-1579
- Oct. 1 — Athens, OH — 740-773-1141
- Oct. 1-3 — Chico, CA — 530-899-6300
- Oct. 1 — Marion, IN — 260-426-5431, x71622
- Oct. 6 — Ashland, KY — 304-529-9141
- Oct. 6 — Louisville, KY — 502-936-1878
- Oct. 7 — Havre, MT — 406-945-5627
- Oct. 8 — Anderson, IN — 260-426-5431, x71622
- Oct. 9 — Madison, WI — 608-556-7909
- Oct. 13 — Dixon, CA — 925-250-8960
- Oct. 14 — Bakersfield, CA — 661-455-7400, x401
- Oct. 15 — Battle Creek, MI — 269-579-1316
- Oct. 15 — Hillsboro, OR — 503-220-8262, x32236
- Oct. 16 — Peoria, IL — 309-208-0874
- Oct. 16 — Santa Maria, CA — 805-782-9101
- Oct. 20-21 — Warren, MI — 313-576-1581
- Oct. 21 — Allegan, MI — 616-356-1746
- Oct. 21-23 — Anderson, CA — 530-515-9670
- Oct. 22 — Anchorage, AK — 907-273-4073
- Oct. 22 — Austin, TX — 512-773-0767
- Oct. 22 — Greenville, NC — 252-830-2149
- Oct. 23 — Killeen, TX — 254-743-1261
- Oct. 2 — Tamarac, FL — 305-575-7000, x12513
- Oct. 29 — Macon, GA — 478-278-8298
- Oct. 29 — Rockford, IL — 608-556-7909
There are many complex reasons why veterans make up about 11% of homeless people in the United States. Social isolation, problems re-integrating into civilian life, substance abuse, mental health issues, PTSD and more. These issues obviously can’t be solved overnight, but the veteran homeless program Stand Down aims to answer the call for the most basic needs of homeless veterans, at least for a few days and nights.
Looking for more ways to assist unhoused veterans? Visit the VA’s Homeless Programs web page for more information about how you can help provide housing, employment opportunities and more.
More like this:
- Signs of PTSD: A Special Ops Veteran’s Awakening (Personal Story)
- Where to Find Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF)
- VA Caregiver Program: Everything You Need to Know