With a population of over 66,000, Los Angeles County is at the forefront of the national homeless crisis. But LA faces even more urgent challenges. More than 3,900 veterans live on the streets, with nearly one in ten homeless veterans nationwide.
Fortunately, Los Angeles also has the West Los Angeles VA Campus, a 388-acre site to meet the needs of veterans with great potential to create more supportive housing units.
The land was transferred to the federal government in 1888, where thousands of veterans lived for decades. Unfortunately, after the 1971 Schirmer earthquake, the Department of Veterans Affairs began to move land away from housing. While the Veterans Affairs Hospital remained, much of the remaining land was used for purposes focused on other non-Veterans.
In 2016, we joined Barbara Boxer, a former Senator, to ensure the passage of the West Los Angeles leasing law. The law led to the termination of most non-veteran rental contracts on campus and spurred the redevelopment of real estate into the real homes of veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently planning to build at least 1,200 new grant apartments, consisting of 23 projects ranging from refurbishing existing structures to developing and constructing new units.
The current challenge is to build housing units and secure the funds needed to get veterans out of the streets as soon as possible.
That’s why we introduced the West Los Angeles VA Campus Improvement Act. The bill will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to use the revenue generated through land-use contracts on campus to fund upgrades to housing, services and infrastructure. This is a simple but necessary amendment to the current law and the money can only be used for maintenance.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed slightly different versions of this bill. We hope that the recently passed Senate bill will receive a final vote in the House of Representatives within a few weeks and President Biden will be able to sign the bill.
VA is also looking for other ways to make the building more suitable for housing, which can further contribute to the cost of refurbishing the building. Congress directed millions of dollars to raise historic buildings on campus to today’s seismic standards and encouraged the Biden administration to use those funds for seismic renovations required.
Veterans Secretary Denis McDonough promised to be personally involved in resolving the veteran homeless crisis during the confirmation process. Following his confirmation, we called on him to put West LA VA on top of his priorities and immediately asked him to visit the campus and provide his support.
Housing is just as important as dealing with this crisis, but we know that housing alone is not enough.
As new housing units are built on the West LA VA campus, vocational training, counseling, healthcare, etc. will help veterans escape from the homeless, regardless of whether they live on campus. Wraparound support services with lower barriers are essential. Other places in the community.
The anchor for these services is the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in the south of the campus. Among the 23 projects planned on campus, efforts are being made to build more outpatient clinics and research centers, consolidating the campus as a veteran medical center in Southern California.
The plan also includes a hub for community involvement and reintegration services tailored to the specific needs of veterans, including employment counseling and programs for people fighting PTSD, substance abuse and other mental health conditions. I will.
Congress and the new administration can ensure that more can be done to support these efforts by providing resources to programs that combine housing and support services, such as the successful HUD-VASH program. This joint program between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development provides veterans with vouchers to help them find permanent housing. Launched in 2008, the HUD-VASH helped cut the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States in half.
With the Schirmer earthquake 50 years behind, it wasn’t long before the campus was restored as a veterans’ home and community.
The West LA VA campus can serve as a national model for how to deal with veteran homeless people. These plans need to be pushed to the finish line. The final passage of the West Los Angeles VA Campus Improvement Act is the next logical step.
Dianne Feinstein represents California in the US Senate. Ted Lieu represents the 33rd Parliamentary District.
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