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Long Beach Stand Down Had Profound Effect

July 14, 1991

Walking into Long Beach Veterans Memorial Stadium for Stand Down '91 (June 21 to 23) I did not know what to expect. Stand Down is a military term for providing a refuge from battle for the combatants. The Long Beach Stand Down was designed to provide a temporary sanctuary for those veterans who have the misfortune of residing on the streets; this event offered a brief respite for these warriors who must contend with the daily elements of being without a permanent home.

If I had any anticipations about Stand Down, they were that I would encounter a less than desirable population group of our society--an unfair stereotype that I am ashamed to have had. What I did not anticipate was to be as profoundly affected as I was. I was truly moved.

At Stand Down I met a group of individuals who were articulate, intelligent, sincere human beings. Stand Down truly brought out the spirit in these people. Some of the services available at Stand Down included being given shelter on a cot in a tent. Solid (and tasty) meals were served. Clothing was issued with old clothing being laundered. Haircuts were provided, if desired. Medical, optical and dental examinations were part of the program; this included foot care, optical dispensing, and evaluation and referral for treatment of medical crises. Psychological counseling was integral with workshops on substance abuse, Agent Orange, stress reduction and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Legal advice was available, as were legal proceedings to address outstanding warrants and/or convictions. Through the combination of these comprehensive services and this break from the daily war of life on the streets, the collective morale of these individuals was elevated.

At Stand Down, of which 263 veterans attended, I played football with these people, ate with them, and truly gave them the respect they earned. What is odd is that these are the same people I would have walked by on the streets without giving it a second thought. I would be afraid to touch them. I would be wary of conversing with them. These are real people with real names with real hearts and minds.

The objective of Stand Down was to focus on one segment of the homeless--veterans. It is very difficult to encompass this vast population in need of shelter, but at least Stand Down provided a starting block or platform for a large concentration of the homeless. Stand Down did not end after three days. Legal, medical, psychological and employment services will continue to be offered to the participants.

Some may argue that there are many homeless individuals who reject assistance or are beyond aid. These factions have always and will always remain within any population. The focus should be on those individuals who can receive help and are receptive to assistance. For them, progress must be advanced.

In trying to better the lot of the homeless, options range from renovating old buildings to providing a permanent tent city to reinvigorating the Civilian Conservation Corps (a work program instituted during the Depression that generated employment for individuals to build up the infrastructure).

As I was exiting Stand Down one night I commented to a friend, "These people are just like us. They deserve better." My friend responded, "No, they are not just like us . . . they are us." My friend was right. We are all human beings deserving of adequate shelter.


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