Stand Down

As Leanna Sain and her husband celebrated their anniversary in Savannah, Georgia, she was willfully not seeking a writing project. Then, while waiting for a tour bus one morning, a man came “bebopping” down the street speaking in a strange language. His clothing, especially the jester hat with two tails sporting jingle bells at each end, indicated that he was homeless. He stopped to sprinkle a post office box with an invisible substance—“Fairy dust,” thought Sain—and then disappeared into the crowd.

Sain knew that, anniversary or not, here was a story that she must tell. Before exiting the bus, she had “captured” her character, outlined her plot, and decided to donate all profits to an organization assisting Savannah’s vast homeless population.

Five years later, she published Red Curtains (reviewed in this issue) and designated Stand Down as her recipient.

Sain expresses her concern for homeless people through Jonas, a young man with a determined social conscience. He discovers that “… the societal problems seemed to be snowballing. No matter what the city leaders did, no matter what programs were put in place, the supply of help couldn’t keep up with the demand.” Also, the homeless demographics were changing from a majority of men to include single mothers and their children (1). Ever the optimist, Jonas exclaims, “At least we’re moving in the right direction with the Stand Down Program.”

During a military Stand Down, “exhausted combat units” are removed from the battlefield to “a place of relative security and safety to rest and recuperate” (2). Vietnam veterans Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison, emulating that model, developed “… a grass roots, community-based intervention where homeless veterans are brought together in a single location to access community resources and supplies needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives” (3). Their first Stand Down, in San Francisco in 1988, launched a national initiative sponsoring hundreds of yearly events.

A Stand Down ranges from one to three days, depending on the class. Class A, a three-day event, offers a full range of services.

Shelter and food are provided all three days along with “… personal care … picture ID services, health care screening and services … eye care … dental care … VA benefits counseling … general benefits counseling … substance abuse counseling/recovery groups; mental health counseling; legal services; employment services; housing services; spiritual services; activities to empower homeless veterans and ‘create a community … events” (4).

Class B and C events … are one or two day Resource Fairs that “… offer some level of direct service on site, but often focus on providing goods and supplies to meet basic needs with partner referrals for more extensive delivery following the Stand Down” (5).

A Class D Stand Down offers health assistance with a one-day Homeless Veterans’ Health Fair, and a Class E Stand Down, for one day, connects unemployed veterans with employers at a Homeless Veterans’ Job Fair.

Sain’s choice of Stand Down proved fortuitous because no one is turned away: “We are looking for homeless veterans, but we serve anybody who is facing a homeless crisis (6). Savannah sponsored two events in 2016.

First, the Stand Down Job Fair on September 14, 2016, gave 206 participants, of which 37 were veterans (31 males and 6 females), 11 veterans’ spouses, and 18 children of veterans an opportunity to meet fifty-five employers (7).

In October 2016, the City of Savannah and Chatham County sponsored the Thirteenth Annual Class A Stand Down. The Veterans’ Association, the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless, the State Department of Labor, the State Department of Veteran Services, and Savannah State University worked for nine months to coordinate 57 vendors and 141 volunteers.

Participants numbered 388 (256 males and 132 females) ranging in age from 17-83. Of the 253 individuals who reported being homeless, 73 were veterans (67 males and 6 females) (8).

Stand Down events for 2017 are already in the planning stages.

Sain made an admirable decision that morning when, despite her determination not to, she responded to a story in the homeless man with the jester’s hat. She credits him with changing her perspective; Savannah’s generic “homeless population” evolved into “a person without a home” in each subsequent encounter. Also, because of her response, Stand Down has gained more exposure and funds.

1. Sain, Leanna. Red Curtains. New York: Wild Rose Press. 2016.
2. National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. “Stand Down Guide.”
3. – 5. National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
6. Coleman, Dash. “Homeless Savannah Residents get Help at Annual Stand Down Event.” Savannah Morning News. 14 September 2016. Section: “Savannah Now.”
7. Baker, Carlos R. “2016 Savannah Job Fair.”
8. Savannah Stand Down for Homeless Statistics.”

Written by Mary Ickes