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KPBS Evening Edition

Stand Down event for homeless veterans returns in full

Stand Down, which was shortened for two years thanks to the pandemic, is back in full swing this weekend.

The tents, the flags and the overall look of a military encampment — designed to make veterans living on the streets feel at home — are all back for Stand Down 2022. The event is organized by Veterans Village of San Diego.

“Stand down has not just been about receiving the services. It’s about community. It’s a transformative experience. It’s meant to be a transformative experience,” said Akilah Templeton, president and CEO of Veterans Village.

By Friday morning, roughly 200 vets had come into Stand Down, which is being held through Sunday at Roosevelt Middle School, just north of Balboa Park.

Organizers are hoping that a total of 500 will arrive by the end of the weekend. The number is a drop from previous years due to changes in the homeless population, Templeton said.

“We also had a larger population of homeless veterans. This year we saw a decrease in homeless veterans of 30%. That is significant,” she said.

Templeton said that, while Stand Down remains relevant, finding permanent housing for veterans is a growing part of the mission for Veterans Village of San Diego.

This year’s event comes as the organization faces scrutiny for how it runs its drug rehabilitation programs. A recent investigation by KPBS news partner inewsource revealed widespread drug use at a Veterans Village rehab center on Pacific Highway. Also, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is investigating two suspected fentanyl overdose deaths on the campus.

Leadership at Veterans Village acknowledged a shortage of workers but said they are still providing high-quality care.

Post-Vietnam Navy veteran Johnnie Byrd says homeless veterans feel comfortable at Stand Down..

“They won’t go into a lot of other services,” Byrd said. “But Stand Down they tend to gravitate over to this way. They tend to come in because they know it’s no questions asked.”

The San Diego County Homeless Court program has participated in Stand Down almost since the year after the event began, in 1988. It remains one of the most popular elements of the event. Saturday, the judge in charge of the homeless court will rule on hundreds of cases to clear away minor violations.

“We have a number of clients in the public defender's office who are not able to afford the trolley, or they’re not able to make it to court because of their homelessness,” said Matthew Wechter, a deputy public defender.

Doreen Garry's husband was a vet and a longtime volunteer at Stand Down before he died.

“I was afraid to go into the court system. I was afraid I would be arrested for a warrant or something. And to what avail? I only get 700 and something from social security, so it’s hard,” Garry said.