Standdown History

In times of war combat units in Vietnam were removed from the battlefield to a place of relative security and safety to rest and recuperate. This safe haven model inspired Vietnam veterans Robert Van Keuren and Jon Nachison to develop the first Standdown in 1988 in San Diego. This event was a grassroots intervention where homeless veterans were brought together in a single location to access community resources and supplies needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives. Since the pioneering work of Keuren and Nachison the concept of Standdown has spread across the country.

Today nearly 200 Standdown events occur each year and it is estimated that over 52,000 veterans are served each year by these programs and approximately 27,000 volunteers help to make this happen. While the Department of Veterans Affairs and other government agencies may participate in these events, they are independently run by community agencies and non-for profits and funding is provided through grants and donations. Standdowns are one very practical way that we can honor the service and sacrifice veterans have made for our country.

Chicago Standdown History

In 1993 the first Standdown in Chicago was held in Humboldt Park. A stumbling, fumbling, but committed group of volunteers, veterans organizations, and community service providers planned and executed the event which was attended by 257 homeless veterans. For three days veterans were offered medical services, housing opportunities, employment assistance, food, clothing, and a chance for rest and relaxation. At its completion, volunteers were fired up with ideas for the improvement and growth of this program.

Since that first Standdown, the non-for-profit, Chicago Veterans Economic Development Council, has developed a strong group of community agencies, federal agencies, veterans service organizations, corporations and volunteers that offer two Standdowns each year in the Chicago area. The Summer Standdown is typically offered on the south side of Chicago and provides the widest range of services possible for two days. The Winter Standdown is generally on the north side of Chicago and is a one day event intended to prepare homeless veterans for the difficult winter months, focusing on winter clothing and housing resources. Both of these events will service between 700 and 800 veterans from the Chicagoland area.

Soon after our first Standdown, we recognized two unexpected benefits. First, it provided an opportunity for veterans to reach out to fellow veterans who were struggling. We find that veterans are incredibly generous with their time and talents and offering assistance can be a morale booster for them as well. Veterans helping veterans is a key feature of the Standdown. Second, service agencies who participate benefit from the networking that goes on between agencies as they learn more about each other and the resources available for their clients. This makes them more effective with their veterans clients throughout the year.