VA Tanked on Pledge to House 650 Homeless Vets in L.A. in April

Tuesday, June 09, 2015
Old Soldiers Home in Los Angeles 1892 (photo: courtesy of Carolina Barrie)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said that ending homelessness in the city is one of his top priorities and vowed to get all the homeless veterans off the street by the end of the year.

The same commitment to ending homelessness for veterans by the end of 2015 was made by the White House in August 2010 for the entire nation. And it was reiterated (pdf) in February―part of the settlement of a four-year lawsuit over misuse of the sprawling VA campus in upscale west Los Angeles―with a goal of housing 650 in L.A. in April.

That didn’t happen.

They found permanent housing for 220, according to KPCC. The feds came through with money (funding doubled to $105 million) and housing vouchers, and there were plenty of homeless folks―but they got priced out of the market.

“What we identified as the major barrier was a lack of willing landlords,” Christina Margiotta, vice president for Community Impact at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, told KPCC. She said 500 veterans had vouchers and nowhere to go.

L.A.’s rental market is excruciatingly tight, with small vacancy rates, skyrocketing rents and a shortage of affordable housing. That is not going to change for the better anytime soon, and could get worse.

There are 2,700 homeless vets in Los Angeles and more than 4,300 in the county. The city figures are 6% higher than two years ago, according to the Los Angeles Times, while countywide numbers are down 6%, thanks to an exodus from Long Beach. The county has the highest concentration of homeless vets in the nation.

L.A.’s homeless vet problem was exacerbated by decades of misuse of the West L.A. campus. Instead of facilities being built for veterans in the village that began as the Old Soldiers Home in 1892, the site became home to the 50-year-old Jackie Robinson Stadium (the UCLA Bruins baseball team plays there), a 20-acre parcel used by the private Brentwood School for its athletic complex, practice fields for a private soccer club, Fox studio production storage facilities, a laundry processing facility for nearby luxury hotels that missed $300,000 in lease payments, a farmers’ market and a 15-acre parcel used by community groups for events.

The lawsuit alleged the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) violated federal law when it leased portions of the campus to 11 businesses and organizations that had nothing to do with helping veterans. The land’s donors in 1887 made clear in the original deed (pdf) that it be used to “locate, establish, construct and permanently maintain such branch of said National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.”

The VA argued that the revenues it received indirectly helped the vets by swelling government coffers.

As part of the settlement, the VA committed to beginning a planning process this month to redevelop the 387-acre campus. The deadline for a plan is October 15. They are getting ready to get ready.

As a gesture of good will, the agency quickly refurbished one of the abandoned buildings on the property and reopened it last Thursday to provide services and housing to 65 chronically homeless veterans who are grappling with addiction, mental illness and other problems.  

“This was a huge resource and there wasn’t a single unit of permanent supportive housing on it,” Gary Blasi, one of the attorneys that represented homeless veterans in the lawsuit, told Stars and Stripes. Now there is.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

VA Fails to Meet Promise of Housing 650 Vets in April (by John Ismay, KPCC)

Housing for Homeless Veterans Pushed (by Patrick Healy, NBC Southern California)

City with Second-Highest Veteran Population Effectively Ends Veteran Homelessness (by Bryce Covert, ThinkProgress)

Homeless Veteran Count Rises 6% in L.A., Posing Hurdle for Garcetti (by Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times)

VA's West La Campus Takes 1st Step to Return to Its Deeded Mission: Housing Veterans (by Jennifer Hlad, Stars and Stripes)

Feds Settle Lawsuit over Misuse of Veterans Campus in Los Angeles (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention (VHHP) Program (California Department of Housing and Community Development)

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