Our history

history of sacramento stand down by don harper, founder & vp

In 1991, I was Director of a Veterans Program called Vietnam Veterans of California in Sacramento. Our staff was comprised of veterans mainly from the Vietnam war. Our main mission was to help recently discharged veterans with job training and placement and a path to secure employment.

During our work, I noticed many veterans who came in for services or assistance were homeless and living on the streets in Sacramento.

I became very concerned of why and how could our veterans who served our country so well, find themselves homeless and walking the streets in Sacramento.

I was not only bewildered but became very angry that no one was else was viewing this problem.

In 1991, one of my Board of Directors named Robert Van Kurran, was running a veteran’s program in San Diego. He started the first program in the country called “Stand Down Event for Homeless Veterans. “

I told him of our homeless veteran problem in Sacramento, and he invited me down to San Diego to become a SD tent Leader and also to observe his Stand Down event taking place for three days.

I saw over 500 homeless veterans in San Diego getting help and again wondered why and how could this happen?

I came away from that three-day experience very moved and dedicated to putting on the same type of Stand Down as in San Diego helping our veterans in Sacramento. My passion and vision helping homeless veterans started from my experience in San Diego.

Moving forward…

In 1991, I formed the first Sacramento Stand Down Task Force with civic leaders, community and veterans leaders to start our yearly planning for our 3-day planned event in July 1992.

It was a task force made up of over 25 members. Some had doubts if we really had a homeless veteran problem in Sacramento. I even had the Mayor’s Chief of Staff as part of this group. We had monthly meetings that dove into the macro and micro details of how to build and put on a Tent city for three days for homeless veterans.

There was even doubt from some traditional veteran organizations that we had a homeless veteran problem at that time.

We located a perfect outdoor site at Camp Pollock, a Boy Scout Camp near the Sacramento River. In essence, we were building a tent city with over 25 service providers, over 100 volunteers and expecting 250 homeless veterans to attend. We also had a full-blown court system with two volunteer local judges.

It would be operated over three days, with hot meals being cooked and served and with evening entertainment as well. It was a 24/7 complex operation for three days.

This being our first Stand Down, the homeless veterans could stay overnight for the three days or leave the camp and come back the next day.

Long story short, we built the Camp with military tents. We did major outreach thru the homeless camps and shelters in Sacramento. We even rented several fishing boats to reach the vets living along the river.

The big thing was gaining the trust of the homeless vets. They were not trustful of the VA and other Government agencies because of their bad experience with them. So, I founded the Sacramento Stand Down Inc., in 1991 to let them know that we were a volunteer-based organization mainly made up of veterans, and veteran friendly community leaders. That was important for them to trust who we were and what we were planning.

Again, we had our doubters in the community that this problem does not exist.

After our Stand Down Tent City was put together and ready for operation on Friday morning, we had two long lines of homeless veterans lined up for services.

At the end of the three days, we served close to 375 homeless veterans. We had to double up our bed space and shift things around. Being in the military, we know how to make necessary changes if needed.

We had major Press coverage before and during our event. That was good because it finally shined a light on the problem of homeless veterans in our community. Sad problem but it needed to be exposed to our government leaders.

The good news is that the homeless veterans trusted our Stand Down Program with no wrong door to go thru. We were not the VA, or governmental agency that has barriers to contend with. We were the real deal for them to get help on and after Stand Down. We offered a Hand Up not a Hand out!

The sad part for me and still is after all these years, is that lack of secure housing for these deserving veterans. We can help others get housing before helping our veterans who have earned their benefits by serving our country.

In 1995, our Sacramento Stand Down was rated one of the top Stand Downs in the country by the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans.

I was honored to go to DC to accept this national award on behalf of the Task Force, our partners, and mainly the homeless veterans who got help thru Stand Down and now are in secure housing and living out their hope and dreams.

Some of our Stand Down graduates have come back year after year as volunteers to give back to our Stand Down program which helped them out. One of our Stand Down graduates is a member of our Board of Directors. It is now 2020, and we have been putting on a Stand Down for 28 years. Our mission has not changed and our Motto stays the same. New Stand Down officers and Board members come and go, but the word passion, compassion and volunteerism stays the course.

We also want to thank our wonderful Army of providers who attend every year and make our events possible. With you and all of our general volunteers we carry on with gratitude in our hearts. To our past volunteers and Stand Down Association members, I say thank you for keeping Stand Down going. To our recent and new Stand Down Association volunteers, I say Welcome Aboard. What we offer most to our homeless veterans is a safe event to receive your services, combined with our utmost respect and dignity for your service. Yes, help and hope are on the way at our Stand Down events and we will always have your backs. We have helped over 10,000 homeless veterans over the years. We are now serving at risk homeless State Guards and Reservists at our Stand Down events. Our mission continues.

So again, thank you for your service to our country and you will never be forgotten. Stand Down leaves No homeless veteran behind.

Don Harper
Founder, Sacramento Stand Down
Vice President, Sacramento Stand Down Association