[Hpn] Fw: San Diego, CA - Veterans continue offensive against homelessness - North County Times - July 14, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Tue, 16 Jul 2002 20:16:44 -0500


Veterans continue offensive against homelessness
"I truly believe that God has had a hand in this"

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SCOTT MARSHALL  - North County Times - July 14, 2002


SAN DIEGO ---- Rows of khaki tents, American flags waving in the breeze, and
talk of squad leaders and the "chow line" helped this weekend to transform the
athletic field at San Diego High School into a military-style encampment on the
front line of a 15-year war against veteran homelessness.

Organized by Vietnam Veterans of San Diego, the annual three-day Stand Down for
Homeless Veterans provides hundreds of veterans access to clean clothes, food,
hair cuts, medical care and social services, including information about
substance abuse treatment and veterans benefits.

"It really recharges me," said Ed Burkhard of Fallbrook, a former board member
of the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego who served four tours of duty in Vietnam
before leaving the Navy in 1970. "That's what we were always about, veterans
helping veterans."

The brain-child of two Vietnam veterans, the Stand Down event that began in San
Diego in 1988 has been repeated throughout the country, with 300 cities expected
to hold similar events this year, organizers said.

Robert Van Keuren, one of the co-founders of the event who now sits on a
national committee advising Congress and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony
J. Principi on homeless issues, said the term Stand Down came from his service
on river boat patrols in the Vietnam War. Sailors on a Stand Down did not have
to conduct patrols.

"You kind of knew for a couple of days you were going to be safe," Van Keuren
said. "You didn't have to go out."

Providing temporary safety and relief to homeless veterans was one of the
objectives of the Stand Down event when it began.

Other goals include raising awareness about homelessness among veterans and
providing the homeless access to resources like clothes and food and to
long-term treatment and care, Van Keuren said.

"You've got choices," Van Keuren told a group of homeless veterans Saturday.
"You don't have to stay homeless. The way to do it is to remember the powerful
person you are. ... You have people that want to help you. You have to be the
person that makes it happen."

Blaine Dever, 49, of Mira Mesa, who served in the Army from 1974 to 1981, said
the Stand Down in 1999 helped turn his life around.

"When I first got here, my self-esteem was real low," Dever said. "I was in the
deep denial stage of alcohol and addiction."

Since the 1999 Stand Down, Dever has been through programs through a veterans
administration hospital and anger management classes and is living with his wife
of 15 years and his 4-year-old son in Mira Mesa.

"It's just proof it can happen if you wanted it bad enough," said Dever, who has
returned to work as a volunteer at each of the last three Stand Down events.

Some participants in this year's event applauded the efforts of the Stand Down
organizers.

Jami, 33, who declined to give her last name, said she, her Vietnam veteran
husband, and their 11-year-old son have been homeless since October, but are
scheduled to move into an apartment Monday.

"He (Jami's husband) told me that if you couldn't find the services here you
needed, they don't exist," Jami said, proceeding to recite a list of services
she and her family planned to utilize during their weekend at the Stand Down.

Although Jami and others praised the event, they have not conquered homelessness
despite multiple years of participating in the Stand Down.

Bob DeVita, 47, said this year is the third time he has attended a Stand Down.
Homeless "off and on" for 11 years, DeVita said he likes to see friends he has
made at the Stand Down and that the event helps him feel like he can "start
getting off the street again."

Three days of sobriety can save a person's life, DeVita said.

"From this year, when I get out of here, I'll start looking forward to next
year," DeVita said.

Some organizers and supporters said their ultimate goal is to no longer need to
hold a Stand Down for Homeless Veterans, but some backers said they will strive
to make future years' events even better.

Van Keuren said the success of the program so far has been the work of God.

"I truly believe that God has had a hand in this," Van Keuren said. "The only
way something like this happens is if there's some spirituality to it."

Contact staff writer Scott Marshall at (760) 631-6623 or smarshall@nctimes.com.
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