CITY HALL — The Veterans Administration plans to complete renovation of a facility to house homeless combat veterans on the agency’s West Los Angeles campus by 2012 — faster than local officials previously thought — a VA spokesman said on Monday.
In an update on Santa Monica City Hall’s homelessness programs last month, Kate Vernez, assistant to the City Manager, said VA officials had estimated the project could take up to four years to complete.
But on Monday, Ralph Tillman, chief of communications and external affairs for the VA’s West L.A. Healthcare Center, said the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters released what he called an “aggressive” construction timeline that foresees completion of the facility by November of 2012.
“Every effort is being made to accelerate this as much as possible at the highest level,” Tillman said of the project.
The facility, known as Building 209, is one of three little-used structures on the West L.A. campus designated to become therapeutic housing for homeless veterans.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in June approved $20 million for its rehabilitation — a step that was hailed by local officials and advocates as a major victory for Los Angeles-area homeless veterans.
There are 6,540 veterans sleeping on Los Angeles County streets each night, according to a joint statement from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky announcing the funding.
The VA’s timeline calls for officials to award a design contract for the facility next month. The VA would then begin soliciting construction bids next June and would select a builder by September, 2011. Construction is expected to take 14 months.
“This schedule is there to meet a need, and that is to provide housing for our homeless veterans as soon as possible,” Tillman said. “And I think it’s a good indication of how committed our secretary is toward that end.”
Since learning about the seldom-used VA buildings in 2004, Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver has been a leading advocate for turning all three structures into facilities for homeless veterans.
“Vets moving is the goal line — if we’re going to cross that goal line in 2012 that’s great,” he said of the announced construction timeline for Building 209. Once completed, the facility could house 75 homeless veterans, Tillman said.
Shriver said the scale of Los Angeles’ homeless problem should encourage federal officials to work to complete the renovations of the other two VA buildings designated for homeless services.
“With thousands of homeless veterans there’s absolutely no reason to wait on the other two empty buildings,” he said.
To begin work on Building 209, the U.S. Congress must first give its approval.
A spokesman for Feinstein, Gil Duran, on Monday said the senator was committed to getting the project authorized by Congress quickly. Its approval has not yet been attached to a pending bill, he said.
A spokeswoman for Waxman could not be reached for comment by deadline Monday.