far beyond the San Diego
community. The San Diego Stand
Down has inspired similar events
in 200 U.S. cities and was profiled
on “ 60 Minutes” in 2010.
Homeless veterans account
for 13 percent of the U.S. adult
homeless population, according
to the National Coalition for
Homeless Veterans, even though
veterans make up only 7 percent
of the general population. The
U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development
estimates that on any given night,
more than 62,000 veterans are
homeless. And despite the Obama
administration’s commitment to
end homelessness among veterans
by 2015, the number of young
homeless veterans is increasing.
In 2010, 12,700 veterans of the
Iraq and Afghanistan wars were homeless. It’s a trend that
Nachison is noticing at Stand Down as well.
“More and more young men and women are ending up
homeless even more quickly than the Vietnam generation did
when coming back,” says Nachison.
Veterans at Stand Down bunk in single-sex tents named Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and so on
after the military phonetic alphabet, one of the many ways Stand Down strives to evoke
memories of serving in the U.S. military.
Crossing to safety
Nachison designed Stand Down to evoke memories of
serving in the U.S. military, a time when most of these
men and women experienced a strong sense of pride and
accomplishment. Veterans bunk in single-sex tents named
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and so on, using the military
phonetic alphabet. A stage draped with camouflage netting
stands at the center of a 30-tent horseshoe. Volunteers check
veterans’ service numbers at the front gate and assign each
veteran to a 25-person tent where they assemble their cots.
The military structure is there “to put people in kind of
an altered state” away from their lives panhandling on the
street or going from agency to agency looking for help, says
Nachison. In clinical terms, his goal is to move these men and
women through Abraham Maslow’s needs hierarchy in three
days. “There’s a young Marine or soldier in there, and I want
to draw that person out. I want to get that kid back in here,
the one who could do anything,” says Nachison.
The first day of Stand Down is devoted to helping veterans
address their most basic needs — food, sleep and shelter. It’s
also when veterans bond with tent-mates with whom they
will share meals and close quarters for the next few days.
“Being homeless is not like a Victor Hugo novel,” says
Nachison. “The camaraderie is healing to people who have
been isolated and alone for a long time.”
On days two and three, Nachison and his volunteers
direct veterans to various tents and stations where they
tackle tougher issues identified on their “dance cards,”
such as the need for medical help or career coaching. One
popular station is Stand Down’s homeless court, where a San
Diego Superior Court judge hears veterans’ cases related to
outstanding warrants and other infractions. After persuading
the judge to participate, Nachison launched the station in
Stand Down’s second year. It was the first of its kind in the
United States. Today, it draws around 50 lawyers to help
veterans prepare their cases pro bono and has inspired other
pop-up homeless courts nationwide.