Homeless veterans: Trying to find help and hope

60 Minutes: Some vets returning from Iraq or Afghanistan into the recession are finding themselves homeless

This story was first published Oct. 17, 2010. It was updated on June 21, 2011.

One weekend a year, nearly a thousand military veterans assemble in a camp in San Diego. What brings them is what they have in common: they're all homeless. The vets gather for something called "Stand Down," started in 1988 by a soldier turned psychologist named Jon Nachison.

Then, it was an emergency response to homelessness among Vietnam vets but, all these years later, Nachison is welcoming the generation from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As we first reported last October, Stand Down is a three day campout that's part jobs fair, part health clinic, part sobriety meeting. The name is a military term for the time when a solider can put down his weapon and stop fighting. The homeless go for a shot at redemption.

"60 Minutes" and correspondent Scott Pelley went to understand why so many people who've served their country find coming home so hard.

Homeless vets: Does anyone care?
Scott Pelley was skeptical when this story crossed his desk. Three days at a San Diego camp for homeless veterans changed his mind.

It's was a Friday morning in July when Nachison was greeting his troops as they waited in line - homeless vets and their families who had waited all night to get in.

They were literally a battalion, 947 men, women and children.

"When people come in, they're instantly transported back to the military, a time when they wore the uniform, where they were proud, where they were walkin' tall," Nachison told Pelley.

"You want them to remember a time in life when they were proud of themselves," Pelley remarked.

"I wanted to evoke that person in them," Nachison replied.

Nachison does that by putting them inside a military-style base on a San Diego high school athletic field: 30 sleeping tents, erected by Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton.

Extra: Helping veterans
Extra: Back on the streets
Extra: Homelessness among vets
Link: Veterans Village of San Diego
Link: Services for Homeless Vets

Also at the campout, there was hot chow, warm showers, clean clothes and fresh hope.

Asked who he can save, Nachison told Pelley, "People can save their self, I can't save anybody."

"You don't expect a miracle to happen when they came here for three days?" Pelley asked.

"Oh I do," Nachison said. "I do."

The chance at that miracle came with over 3,000 volunteers who helped the vets check into VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) benefits and look into jobs. There was medical care, dental care and even a temporary municipal court where they could clear tickets for loitering or sleeping on the street.

Why are these people on the street?

"There must be some gap that exists between military service and becoming a civilian," Nachison explained. "You're told what to wear you're given everything and then suddenly you've lost your entire family, you've lost your identity."

"You think some people fall through that gap between military life and civilian life?" Pelley asked.

"And for some people it's a chasm," Nachison said.

It was a chasm for Charles Worley, who served with the Marines in Iraq. He's still in the reserves, subject to being recalled. Based on his clean-shaven appearance, we mistook him for a volunteer until we heard a volunteer coordinator ask him how long he had been homeless.

"A few months, about six," he replied.

Worley left the Marines in 2008 and joined the "Great Recession." Like everyone at Stand Down, he had his service record verified by the VA, then he was assigned to one of the tents that go by the names "Alpha," "Bravo," "Charlie," and so on.

"Delta" tent was Worley's first home in a long time.

The night before he came to Stand Down, he told Pelley he slept in Old Town Park in San Diego.

Produced by Henry Schuster

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes