Editorial: Finally, someone lit a fire under the VA to accommodate homeless veterans

It was gratifying to hear that Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough recently announced an ambitious but achievable goal: to accommodate 500 homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area by permanent end of the year in permanent homes, not just temporary motel rooms. He also pledged to get temporary housing for at least 40-year-olds, mostly veterans and their partners, who live in a tent camp along the San Vicente Boulevard section of Brentwood, bordering the West LA VA campus.

Timetables for accommodating veterans were coming and going. In 2015, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed a house of every homeless veteran in the city, but withdrew when the count that year showed veterans ’homelessness increased by 6%. We welcome the urgency again and hope that this time the promise will be kept.

Since then, the increase in veterans’ homelessness in LA has declined – but even when veterans are housed, others are left homeless. Approximately 3,900 veterans in LA County remain homeless, compared to the last number from 2020. The VA says that from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, 1,283 veterans were housed. Which begs the question, how many veterans are left homeless by LA County? No one has an up-to-date answer, but there are certainly more than 500.

Huge funds are now available for veterans, including more than 1,300 rental vouchers for veterans, say Los Angeles Homeless Administration officials. And that doesn’t count veterans with vouchers in their hands who can’t find an apartment they could afford, or a landlord willing to take them.

But the obstacles are still high. Service providers should assist veterans in collecting important documents, and VA social workers should assess their mental and physical well-being and assist in their documentation. LAHSA even invited DMV staff visiting the camp last week to work with veterinarians to obtain ID cards. Service providers or VA staff should take veterans on a visit to potential temporary and permanent residences.

Some service providers who work with VA staff say that VA’s mutual support professionals do a good job of intensive veteran involvement – but say VA social workers don’t do enough fieldwork, instead spending a lot of time working remotely and contact people by phone. (Yes, the homeless have phones, but they get lost or stolen or don’t always work.) The VA disputes this, saying that social workers have been in the field for six months. However, the VA suffers from a 20 percent shortage of social workers.

Well, here’s the point – he can’t do this job over the phone without staff crew. VA has contracted with assistance service providers, but for the veterans to be temporarily settled in the camp and to house another 500 veterans by the end of the year, an army of men will be needed, well. If the VA needs to hire more social workers, the secretary should make sure this is done quickly.

At Brentwood Camp, some scouts were reluctant to leave. “You can’t overestimate the community in the camp,” one service provider observed. But most move on.

“I’m grateful for anything,” Camp resident Coco Garcia said Wednesday as she quickly packed her things to go to a motel in Lakewood – not for her first choice. But she said, “That’s what it is.”

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