The 33rd annual "Stand Down" event to help homeless veterans was held downtown Sunday. It’s usually a three-day event, but the pandemic changed the way veterans are getting help this year.
Because of public health guidelines, Stand Down is now a one-day, walk-up event. Previously, vets were allowed to camp out for the weekend.
After a temperature check and a quick health screening, homeless veterans were then allowed to walk onto the San Diego High School campus and take advantage of the services at Stand Down.
“In the past, it was always a great place because we would have bands (playing), free meals, clothing, and showers. But because of this pandemic thing, everything is cut down," said Michael Conley, a veteran who spent two decades living on the street.
At Stand Down, vets can get clean clothes, medical check-ups, and a warm meal. Local service providers also help with housing, job placement, and legal advice.
For homeless vets, help is needed more than ever.
“It helped me to basically have shelter instead of being on the street,” said Jerome Peters, an Iraq War veteran.
Service providers like Veterans Village of San Diego helped Peters get through a time in his life that has been challenging financially and mentally.
“It helped me get out of my own mind,” Peters said.
Many of the volunteers at Stand Down used to be homeless themselves.
“When I first got out of the Marine Corps I was homeless, living out a car for a few months,” said Matthew Baugh.
Baugh was also dealing with alcohol problems, but it was the resources at Stand Down that helped him push through.
“Once I got on my feet, I made a promise to myself that I would go back and help those who were homeless,” Baugh said.
Some years, Stand Down helps more than a thousand vets. Because of the pandemic, a lot fewer are expected to make it to the event, but the volunteers are still making a huge difference.
“The brotherhood of being with the vets and hanging out with people who care about you,” said Conley as he smiled and walked a way with a bag of new clothes.
According to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, there are 8,102 homeless people in San Diego. Ten percent of those are homeless vets.
Stand Down is put on by Veterans Village of San Diego.
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