Preparations Underway For 27th Annual Stand Down For San Diego Homeless Vets
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Our top story on Midday Edition, the twenty-seventh annual Stand Down for homeless veterans takes place this week in San Diego. It is an opportunity for homeless vets to get needed medical services, connect with counselors, and spend a couple of nights off of the street. But unlike in years past, the issue of homeless veterans is now the subject of a national initiative. National, state, and local lawmakers, including San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer have signed onto an effort to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year. Supporters are hoping this may be one of the last major Stand Down's needed in San Diego. We will talk to the organizers of Stand Down about that, and about this year's events. My guests are Phil Landis, President and CEO of Veterans Village of San Diego. Phil, welcome back to the program. PHIL LANDIS: Thank you so much. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Doctor Jon Nachison is Cofounder of Stand Down, welcome Jon. JON NACHISON: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Phil, how big an event has Stand Down going to be over the years? PHIL LANDIS: Doctor Jon was one of the cofounders of this event in 1988. It has grown from several hundred participants in several hundred volunteers to upwards of 1000 participants and 3000 volunteers. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the range of ages in the veterans that you see? PHIL LANDIS: We see very young veterans some in their late teens and early 20s, to those that are almost as old as I am. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the range in differences of the needs of these different generations? PHIL LANDIS: That is a very good question, the needs are different. My generation, the Vietnam generation had one set of needs and criteria. These younger kids we're beginning to see come in these programs come from a different experience, they come from overlapping trauma, a lot of prescription drug issues now, which we did not have been in earlier conflicts. Underneath all of that you have men and women who have suffered trauma with issues whether they are simply employment, to drug and alcohol, trauma issues, and we try to provide services to each one of them. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Doctor Jon, you are one of the founders of Stand Down. What were the problems you saw in 1988 that prompted you to start Stand Down? JON NACHISON: I think the first problems that we saw was that nobody was recognizing that there were veterans on the street. In 1988, veteran homelessness was not on anyone's radar. I am a cofounder, but the other cofounder was Robert Van Kirin. Robert and I were running a program for Veterans Village, which of the time was called Vietnam Veterans of San Diego. When we were asking people for demographic information, it seemed to me and to Robert like too many of them said they had no address. We start to look into that, and we started to recognize that there was a whole cadre of people out there living in the bushes, living on the street. For us, doing Stand Down, which was going to be a one-time event, it was about leveling the playing field for them, bringing them off the street, giving them the resupply that they needed, and then being able to let them go back and hopefully be able to get off of the street. What happened, of course twenty-seven years later, we're still doing it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you could give me a better idea, both of you, let me start with Jon. What happens at Stand Down? What kind of help does it provide to homeless veterans? JON NACHISON: There is so much that happens at Stand Down for people. One can catalog it in terms of medical, clothing, showers, dental, everything you expect people need. There's something else that happens at Stand Down which has been very important for us over the years. People who are homeless, equipment identified as homeless, we identified them as veterans, members of our community and our family. We want to bring people into Stand Down, and let go of the homeless identity. Instead, focus on the veteran part of them, and the part of them that wants to get healthy. The part of them that wants to get off of the street. It takes a lot. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Besides shower, shaving, barbers and even the dental work that can be accomplished at Stand Down, if a homeless veteran we identifies with that respect, that he or she would get as a veteran, and want to take another step out of where they are, what kind of counseling services in general are available? PHIL LANDIS: Just about everything you could possibly imagine is going to be there. The VA has a major contingent that provides counseling and medical services. I think that the real impact is right there on the field in the tent, through the tent leaders and other volunteers that have decided to spend the weekend one-on-one with a group of men and women, and over the course of these three days, they become friends and they become talking partners, and from that the hope is reestablished. And connectivity with the greater community is reestablished. If you really want to do something to change behavior, we have got folks there, we have mentors, counseling, we will help you find a way to do that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Any stories over the years that come to mind about how this event has helped to turn lives around? PHIL LANDIS: Goodness, Doctor Jon could probably speak about that more than I. At every event, you find countless men and women who found an opportunity to reconnect with the humanity that all of us seek to belong to. When you're homeless and have been on the streets for a period of time, you will lose that, you'll live in a life of isolation, and sometimes what goes inside stays there. Our job is to bring some of that out. Remember, in each soul, there is an ember that never goes out. Our job is to find it, and get you to work on that, and turn that into a flame. It is a flame that catches fire, and once that happens, people want to change their lives. We are there to do that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Doctor Jon, any specific stories that come to mind for you about veterans who have used Stand Down to turn their lives around? JON NACHISON: One of the things I'm most proud of his how many of our volunteers are former participants. I think if I look at those numbers, right now it might be close to 25% of our volunteers are former participants. This story is that everywhere you turn at Stand Down, there is something happening. It is because we are trying to create the space for people that brings out their best. Our thing at Stand Down is really we are not trying to give people stuff, we're not trying to teach them stuff, what we're trying to do is create an environment, a human environment as well as a physical one that is going to bring out the best in people. It starts with trusting them, and trusting that the recovering and healing part is there, that is what we find every year. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Every year, as you know, the county does a count of the homeless people in San Diego. What is the number of homeless veterans in San Diego? PHIL LANDIS: I wish I knew. There is a count, but it is just a one night event. I will give you some statistics, which I asked for earlier in the week and received just the other day. Veterans Village, for nineteen months has provided a shelter that was four months and then it has gone to nineteen months. In that period of time we have provided services to 1148 unduplicated veterans. That is an outstanding number. It tells you this is an underreported and undercounted population. We know it is a guesstimate, but it is better than having no guesstimate at all. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There's now an initiative underway to not just address the issue of veteran homelessness, but to end it. Veterans Village of San Diego is part of that 25 Cities Initiative. Tell us a little bit more about that. How is that initiative proceeding? PHIL LANDIS: We're just getting started on it. There are specific objectives to it to take us into September. When it comes to veterans, the obligation is to secure permanent housing for 100 veterans in that time. We decided that we chose to find homes for 50% of that, I don't think we'll have any difficulty doing that. I want to go back to permanent housing, something that is really critical, I mentioned it earlier. In a twelve month period, we have placed 419 men and women into permanent housing. You would think that would directly be reflected in Stand Down. Doctor Jon and I were discussing this, we are really interested to see what the impact is going to be. We anticipate the numbers to be lower, we want them to be lower, we just don't know. It is a moving population. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Last year the numbers were slightly lower than the year before, is that right? JON NACHISON: It is, but it is still way too high. Anytime you're talking about having numbers over 1000, for three days, it is much too high. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Veterans Village was very involved in the move to pass Prop 41, which passed in June. It allocates more money for veterans housing. How will that be used, how is that part of the whole push to end veteran homelessness? PHIL LANDIS: It has been a remarkable progress. California is the only state that I'm aware of that has taken funds and reallocated them for this purpose of veteran housing. It is truly exciting. The way it will work in San Diego is that in the first distribution of funds, we have been relegated $5 million. That is kind of a soft number, we are hoping it will be a little more. That will allow someone to do at least one project. The project may be 60 to 70 units, 130-140 veterans. It is a really good beginning, but it should be just a beginning. There are just too many people, especially in San Diego. Keep in mind that San Diego is the seventeenth largest city in America, but we have the third-largest concentration of veterans in the country. Furthermore, we have more Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11 veterans choosing to stay in San Diego than any other city in the country. That is a burgeoning population that we are gearing up to work with. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Doctor Jon, you have been at this for quite a long time since 1988 to address the needs of homeless veterans. I'm wondering, do you think we are actually really close to ending this problem? JON NACHISON: No, not really. I remember when the country established a ten year plan to end veteran homelessness. We have a ways to go, but there is a lot of good things happening on the plus side. One of the things that is happening, the various diverse agencies that were responsible for this plan are starting to work together. Whenever that connectivity, that networking occurs in the community, things really begin to help to assist. Our biggest problem coming up is our OEF vets. Iraq and Afghanistan, we may be going back to Iraq and seeing a whole lot more of these folks. Some of them have been laying low, I think that will be like the baby boomer generation. Their generation me start to whittle down, but these Iraq and Afghanistan vets, they are numbers are going to be increasing. There are some very good things happening. Proposition 41 in California is excellent, it is putting the number where it needs to be. It is diverting it from farms and so forth. One of the things that Phil and I were talking about, with of the things that is important is not just throwing money at the problem, or putting people in housing. There needs to be supportive programs as well that help get people up to speed. What we had in the old days back in the 80s is something called OJT, on-the-job training. This was a wonderful program in California, because what it meant was that an employer could get assistance to employee a vet. The veteran would be payed, but part of that pay would be subsidized by the government. Whether it was state or federal, it did not matter. That gave the veteran an opportunity to show their worth, to prove themselves, and he gave the employer a chance to make a decision about this individual, so when the subsidy ran out they could continue employment. I would like to see this come back in California. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Supportive services and not just housing, it is getting people off the street, into housing, and taking the next step when it comes to either rehabilitation if someone has an addiction problem or getting someone a job, getting someone trained for a career. PHIL LANDIS: I think you're onto it. San Diego is really unique, I've never seen another Veterans Village in the country, and I get to travel around a lot. Under one agencies roof, think of us as a train station. If Phil comes to you and I need permanent housing, we can get you on that train. Maybe Phil needs drug, alcohol, and trauma treatment, okay, you go on the long-term residential treatment track. When you are ready you can move into permanent housing. A job is critical. Life-sustaining income. That is the name of the game here. It should not be government-funded housing for the rest of your life. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The Stand Down starts on July 18, do you still need volunteers? PHIL LANDIS: We always need volunteers. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How with someone get to you to volunteer? JON NACHISON: They can go on the VVSD website to get to the volunteer sign-up. There's a thing about the volunteers that is remarkable to me. We have had growing numbers of volunteers from the community over the past couple of years. What is happening is, San Diego has totally embraced Stand Down. Back in the day it was a little different. Now, it seems like the community wants to be at Stand Down. It is a wonderful thing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you both very much.
The 27th annual Stand Down for homeless veterans takes place this week in San Diego.
It's an opportunity for homeless vets to get necessary medical services, connect with counselors and spend a couple of nights off the street.
But unlike in years past, the issue of homeless veterans is now the subject of a national initiative.
Federal, state and local lawmakers, including San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer have signed on to an effort called the 25 Cities Initiative. The goal is to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year. Supporters are hoping this may be one of the last major stand downs needed in San Diego.
Stand Down runs from Friday, July 18 to Sunday, July 20 at San Diego High School.
A count in January found more than 8,500 homeless people in San Diego County, about 17 percent of whom were veterans. The figure for ex-military members was up 2 percent from a year earlier.