The $20 million in Veterans’ Administration funds to convert a single, unused building at its West Los Angeles campus into housing for chronically homeless veterans shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is.
Securing housing for homeless veterans has been a personal cause of Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, who has been trying to expand housing and related services at the VA campus in Brentwood for years. I even wrote about his efforts a few weeks ago.
Shriver identified three empty buildings at the VA that could be used to house mentally disabled and chronically homeless veterans and vets with substance abuse problems years ago. In fact, the buildings were constructed in the 1950s specifically for mentally ill veterans. Rehabbing the buildings to serve a new generation of vets had stalled because of the lack of political will to make it happen.
Shriver and others had grown frustrated as securing funding had become a long, drawn-out process along with what appeared to be a lack of enthusiasm for the project by most political leaders. Not one federal political leader pushed for this facility. And, only one of three buildings so desperately needed has been funded.
During a June 16 meeting in U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate office in Washington, DC, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki committed $20 million (a fraction of the VA’s 2010 discretionary budget of $55.9 billion) to renovate and rehabilitate one structure: Building 209.
A total of $10 million is earmarked for seismic upgrades while the other $10 million will go for living quarters, activity rooms and facilities for services, treatment and physical and mental rehabilitation. Building 209 will see its first client in 2012.
Despite sitting on the Senate Appropriations Committee and being a former chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs, surprisingly Feinstein has never championed funding for this project nor has super-powerful U.S. Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills).
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky credited Shriver with suggesting as far back as 2004 that the three buildings be recycled and renovated to serve the county’s huge homeless veteran population — a growing problem because of the large numbers of compromised veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and the appalling lack of mental health services available to them
Estimates are that over 15,000 homeless veterans now sleep on Los Angeles County streets each night. Many vets suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, various mental illnesses. depression and/or have alcohol and drug abuse problems. Some 15 percent of homeless veterans are woman — many are victims of military-related sexual trauma. Some even live in vehicles or dumpsters with their children.
Shriver told me he was pleased that real money had finally been committed but was disappointed that the two other buildings weren’t included. He also was hopeful that the VA would quickly issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) for an experienced homeless/veterans service provider to assist with the new facility’s design and operation.
“It’s vital that a key service provider be brought in early during the planning process," he said.
A number of providers already furnish services at the Brentwood VA including New Directions, which has been providing a comprehensive array of services to homeless vets since 1992 and the Salvation Army.
I talked to Bob Pratt, president of Volunteers of America whose Los Angeles operation is interested in being involved with the new facility. VOA already provides a wide range of services to veterans including sheltering, transitional and permanent housing, outreach and support services around the county. Pratt, who lives in Santa Monica, said, “This is a terrific opportunity” and praised Shriver because he “single handily made it happen." The VA’s partner would assist in assuring a comfortable and beneficial environment for mentally disabled vets.
Shinseki has also promised “to work” with Feinstein and Waxman to identify and secure an additional $20 to $30 million to renovate Buildings 205 and 208 — the other two structures identified and designated for homeless veteran housing and services.
Pratt told me he hoped that one of the three buildings would be set aside for female veterans with and without children. He noted, “Women often have more and more severe adjustment problems than male veterans because of negative sexual experiences on top of the PTSD.”
Let’s pray it doesn’t take another six years to just get the money. Vets are dying out there in the meantime.
LUCE sells out <p>
The final public meeting concerning the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element is at 6:30 tomorrow night in City Council chambers. When adopted, LUCE will become the city’s framework for future development through 2030.
Go and watch Richard Bloom, Terry O’Day, Pam O’Connor and Gleam Davis approve LUCE and sell Santa Monica out to developers such as allowing taller buildings, citywide. All those developer campaign contributions are starting to pay off. Despite many years of input, we’re being bamboozled. More next week.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.