This Nonprofit Is Going From Renting to Owning, With Help from Two Funders

One irony that some housing groups face is that they're renters, not owners, of their office spacesand are prey to the whims of the real estate market just like many of the people they're trying to help. Among other things, outlays for rent can jack their overhead, diverting money from services and making them less appealing to donors.

Operation Stand Down Tennessee (OSDTN) is a nonprofit looking to get its own digs, and it's getting help on this score from funders. By owning the building from which it operates, rather than renting, OSDTN can reduce overhead costs and invest more in the services it provides to struggling veterans, including ones who are homeless.

For those of us not up on our military lingo, Stand Down is a military term that refers to a period of rest and recovery for exhausted combat troops with emphasis placed on friendship, hope and pride in themselves. The idea of Operation Stand Down began in 1993 when the first event was held in San Diego to aid homeless veterans, and the number of yearly events has been growing ever since. There are currently about 500 events scheduled for 2014.

Now, with gifts from the Frist Foundation and the Memorial Foundation totaling $450,000, OSDTN is set to buy and begin renovations of its office building. Formerly a grocery store, the renovated space will be fitted for additional classrooms and group meeting spaces, and staff offices will be redesigned to improve confidentiality.

The Memorial Foundation, formed in 1994 from assets of Nashville Memorial Hospital, also serves local nonprofits in the Nashville area that provide services in the areas of human and social services, education, substance abuse, and community development.

The Frist Foundation President, Pete Bird, calls the foundation's gift to underwrite the capital for OSDTN an "easy one" based on the "diligent" 20-year work history of the organization serving veterans.

The Frist Foundation provides grants to the greater Nashville area to help nonprofits improve their services. Its gift to OSDTN, which provides job training, housing, and other assistance to veterans, aligns well with its mission. OSDTN programs also include document preparation, mental health, employment, and access to medical care. The organization estimates that 90 percent of its contributions go directly to programs serving local veterans.

Across the nation there are many Operation Stand Down events, but not many that offer year-round services. Many Stand Downs organize a one-to-three day event for homeless veterans providing food and health services, and connect them to benefits such as applying for housing or income assistance.

Tennessee appears to have one of the more robust Stand Down projects in the country. It was able to establish full-time services in 1999, and has been winning awards for its exemplary services and for expanding housing for veterans ever since.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veteran serves as a hub for the nation's Stand Down Projects, and provides a registry of new Stand Down events as they are approved. It also provides information on how to apply for money to host a Stand Down event from the Veteran Services Administration here.

As Operation Stand Down events grow and its nonprofits get more established in their communities, the Tennessee Operation Stand Down may serve as a model to other states who have not yet built a base for year-round services. New events are registering almost every day, and it might make sense in cities where the needs of homeless veterans are greatest to reach out for grant support to local foundations so that services can be provided not just for a few days, but all year long.