Stand Down 2002: A Hand Up to 150 Homeless Veterans

By G. Natasha Zoe, Veterans Infomation Officer

On Sept. 20 the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) and Stand Down of South Jersey, Inc. co-hosted Stand Down 2002 at the Excelsior Scottish Rite Auditorium in West Collingswood. DMAVA, along with many volunteers, civic organizations, and both public and private support agencies, holds the Stand Downs to provide more than 150 homeless veterans with access to healthcare, mental health screening, substance abuse counseling, social services availability, religious counseling, a hot meal, a haircut and winter clothing. Stand Down’s ultimate goal is to show disenfranchised veterans that someone still cares and to assist in bringing their homelessness to a close.

In prior years Stand Down has been held at the Cherry Hill Armory, Fort Dix or Naval Weapon Station Lakehurst. Last year Stand Down was canceled (after September 11 National Guard activations.) In 2000, more than 130 homeless veterans and their families attended the Stand Down. Three of the veterans were admitted directly to Veterans Haven (a transitional housing program for New Jersey’s homeless veterans.)

“On any given night there are 341,000 veterans estimated to be homeless, up from 274,000 in 1995,” said Col. Kathleen Morrissey, New Jersey Army National Guard. “About one-third of the homeless in the United States have served in the Armed Forces. The number of homeless Vietnam veterans exceeds the number of servicemembers killed during that conflict. There are currently 7,000 homeless veterans in New Jersey.”

The term Stand Down came from the military term referring to exhausted combat units removed from the battlefront to a place of security and safety for rest and recovery. Stand Downs are a grass-roots, community-based intervention program to help homeless veterans battle life on the streets. The program was based on a philosophy of a hand up not a hand out. The first Stand Down was held in 1988 in San Diego. Today more than 80 are held annually to reach an estimated 100,000 homeless veterans.

The organizations supporting Stand Down 2003 were DMAVA, Stand Down of South Jersey, Inc., the U.S. Veterans Administration, The Retired Officers Association, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion and their Ladies Auxiliary, Marine Corps League and their Ladies Auxiliary, American Ex-Prisoners of War, Veterans of Foreign Wars and their Ladies Auxiliary, Gold Star Wives, Jewish War Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Burlington County Veterans Services Office, Camden County Veterans Services Office, Camden County Board of Social Services, Community Services of Camden County, U.S. Department of Labor, the Fort Dix post chaplains, Ventnor Vets Center, Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council, Veterans Haven and the Cooper Health System which includes Community Health Affairs.

The Food Bank of South Jersey provided the food for the Stand Down.

“In our country’s time of need these fine men and women were willing to jeopardize their lives to defend our homes. Now in their time of need the community needs to work together to support and honor our local unsung heroes,” said Ellen McDowell, president of the Maple Shade Rotary.