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Page 14
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My View: On Standdowns

By John Zutz

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Why do we participate in Standdowns?

Homelessness damages the physical and mental health of individuals who are homeless. Homelessness also threatens society as a whole by masking the needs for detoxification, psychiatric hospitalization, and even incarceration, and by fostering disease and crime.

There are large variances in the persistence of homelessness. About one-fifth of those on the streets are homeless for over four years, and about one-fifth are homeless for less than three months.

People with less education, people with mental health or substance abuse problems, people who have been incarcerated, and males generally, tend to be homeless longer than people without those characteristics. But even short bouts of homelessness expose individuals to severe depredations, disease, and victimization including assault, robbery, and rape.

Studies show that on any given day about one-third of the men in homeless shelters are veterans.

The Standdown programs in Chicago and Milwaukee are organized and run by veterans. They provide homeless vets and their families with the immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter. Participants are able to receive other services from health care to haircuts.

However, I believe our presence addresses the participants' mental health needs as well. Think about it. While walking to the bus, we come across these people, and we try to ignore them. Riding by in our cars, we don't even see them.

That's why Standdowns are important. We see them as people. We interact as equals (as veterans), rather than with pity or a handout. And they realize that someone, somewhere, gives a shit.

After all, very ordinary people can end up homeless through no fault of their own. It could happen to any one of us.

John Zutz is a member of the Milwaukee chapter and a VVAW national coordinator.

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