“Stand down” is a military term which refers to the occasion where combat troops in need of respite are encouraged to go off duty, and end their state of readiness and alert. In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover are removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety and allowed to “stand down”. The time to “stand down” affords battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being.
“Stand Down” is, also, a term used to describe a national community-based effort designed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help the nation’s 75,000+ homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. The philosophy undergirding this “Stand Down” is a “hand up” not a “hand out”. During the “Stand Down” homeless veterans and veterans at-risk of homelessness are provided access to an array of resources to help them address their individual problems and rebuild their lives. The “Stand Down” offers veterans in need a daylong respite from the streets and a real opportunity to put their lives back together and provides veterans in need access to long-term solutions by building community and access to inter-organizational relationships to help fight homelessness. Any veteran who attends the “Stand Down” can obtain assistance with emergency housing, employment, clothing, haircuts, showers, hygiene products, medical/dental/optical exams, and job placement assistance.
On Saturday Feb. 22 UWP College of Natural and Health Sciences and College of Nursing volunteered alongside providers from the Veterans Administration, the Health Department, Prevent Blindness of Wisconsin and representatives of more than 75 other health care and social service organizations. The students were astounded by the numbers of local veterans that are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Data suggest that one of every four homeless persons in our community is a veteran. Fifty five hundred local veterans are suspected to be “at risk” because they are living below the poverty line, spending more than half of their incomes on housing, or living with another family.
“The sacrifice these men and women took leaving family, friends, and familiar surroundings to protect us in foreign lands took courage. The fact that they come back home from war or from another military duty, challenged by mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse should move every one of us.” UW Parkside Senior Amy Ganshert said, “None of us really understand the challenges of this group of men and women who have given so much to our country. Grasping the enormous sacrifice these men and women took leaving family, friends, and familiar surroundings to protect us in foreign lands took courage. The fact that they come back home with issues due to their service that result in their being homeless or at risk of being homeless should move everyone. If any veteran is in need – that is far too many!”
Veteran Army Combat Welder Claude Foster has been to six Stand Downs, “a lot of veterans need to come. They don’t think they have the problem – but it’s not just the world”. He feels that the Stand Down is good for the community and makes a real difference. The motto of the Stand Down is: “A hand up, not a hand out” and Mr. Foster is very glad for the Stand Downs because he has learned more about his health and where he should seek help.
For many of the students volunteering that day it was an awe-inspiring experience. “To support the people who have supported us and allow us to live our lives is humbling. We are a small part, helping with vision screening but it is our way of giving back” said Jennifer Blum. Others noted, “Volunteering at the Stand Down was an awesome experience”. “There should not be a single homeless veteran in America”. Supporting the men and women who have supported us and allow us to live our lives is humbling”.
“Events like these teach us things that can’t be taught in school and will help us become the type of citizens and professionals we should be”. While some of the students attending the Stand Down noted that it was their first encounter, all noted that it would definitely not be their last.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for homeless veterans. For more information on the date and location of upcoming Stand Downs – visit the NCHV web site at http://nchv.org/index.php/about/about/who_is_nchv/.
Guest Article by Kathryn Rotsch
UWP College of Natural and Health Sciences and College of Nursing students Kathryn Rotsch, Jennifer Blum, Brian Chieves, Amy Ganshert, Ashley Juntenen, Cassandra Stinefast, and Sarah Pahlke making a tremendous difference!