Daily Press Staff Writer
Unfortunately, homelessness in Santa Monica is nothing new to the city. People become homeless for various reasons such as a lack of affordable housing, decreased employment opportunities, lack of healthcare, substance abuse, and many more.
In evaluating how to tackle the problem, authorities are increasingly focused on the problem of homeless veterans who return from conflict only to find themselves trapped on the streets.
Last month the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced $18.5 million to 39 local public housing agencies all across the country to provide permanent homes to an estimated 2,100 veterans experiencing homelessness.
In a conference call last month, U.S. Department Secretary, Julian Castro, said, “Homelessness is down significantly since 2010. I stay committed to ending homelessness in the country.”
According to the 2016, P.I.T Estimate of Homeless Veterans, California has an estimated total of 9,612 veterans, 4,012 of them are sheltered while the 5,600 are on the streets.
“I am pleased that Los Angeles county supervisors are taking a positive approach to address homelessness and affordable housing. We have been out there and worked with leaders in Los Angeles and we have engaged with the city,” said Castro. “I think part of homelessness is related to housing affordability among other theories.”
In 2011, Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System collaborated with Federal, County, and local government and non-profit agencies to launch Project 60. The project is to help 60 of the most vulnerable homeless veterans in Santa Monica, Venice, Hollywood, and Van Nuys to move off the streets and into permanent housing.
Partners include Housing Authority of the City of Santa Monica, along with some non-profit community homeless services providers include OPCC, and St. Joseph Center in Venice.
At St. Joseph Center, there is a Veterans Representative Payee Program that serves homeless veterans and offers support services.
The programs seem to be working, as the number of homeless veterans in the country has declined by nearly 50% since 2010 and declined in Los Angeles by more than 32% within the last year.
President Obama launched Opening Doors program and it was the nation’s first federal strategy to prevent and end homelessness. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs has plans to build an additional 1,200 apartments with social and mental services.
The issue of homeless veterans in Los Angeles is getting attention and is being broadcasted on the national stage.
In Sept. President Obama signed into law legislation the West Los Angeles Leasing Act of 2016. This has allowed VA to move forward transforming VA’s campus into a welcoming place where Veterans and their families in the most need of services can call home.
However, the project will come to fruition under President-Elect Trump. With his background in real estate, officials in Los Angeles County hope he can build a safe heaven for Veterans.
In an article written in the New York Times, former Mayor of Santa Monica, Bobby Shriver, said “He (Trump) can marshal a team of generals, V.A. folk, private sector and nonprofit real estate and managers and build this housing immediately.”
Local officials are not waiting on outside agencies to provide services.
The Santa Monica Police Department cares for the homeless veterans through its Homeless Liaison Program. Officers collaborate with the VA and have worked with VA officials to conduct dual outreach efforts. If the veterans do not want services offered from the VA, they could receive services from other provides within the city.
“The Santa Monica Police Department strongly encourages homeless veterans to use the VA services and make an effort to take them to the VA to get the help they need,” said Lieutenant Rodriguez of SMPD. “We maintain a list of veterans frequently in Santa Monica and always remind them they have the VA to help them get off the street.”
If you are a veteran in Los Angeles County or are in danger of becoming homeless, contact the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at 1-800-838-4357.