Lessons from Los Angeles on ending Veterans’ homelessness


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The following was written by VA Secretary Bob McDonald for the Southern California News Group and first appeared in the Pasadena Star News.

Seven years ago, President Obama and VA named ending Veteran homelessness a top priority. No one who fought for this country should sleep on the streets. Period. So we got to work, and with the help of the first lady’s Joining Forces Initiative and Mayors Challenge, we’ve forged powerful partnerships among federal, state, and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations. As a result, we’ve cut Veteran homelessness nearly in half – down 47 percent since 2010.

Today, we better understand what causes homelessness and can better prevent it. Problems with physical and mental health, addiction, poverty, limited social support, and lack of community resources and affordable housing all contribute to Veteran homelessness. Compared to the general population, Veterans are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and mental illness.

Fortunately, all of these things are treatable. We know that Veterans in our care are less likely to commit suicide, commit crimes or end up homeless. So our focus has been on getting at-risk Veterans into the VA healthcare system.

For those who have already fallen into homelessness, we’ve employed a proven strategy called “Housing First”—because treating Veterans for any condition is a lot easier once their basic need for shelter is met.

  • Since 2010, more than 360,000 Veterans and family members have been housed permanently, rapidly rehoused, or prevented from becoming homeless.
  • In 2015 alone, in partnerships with communities, VA provided services to more than 365,000 homeless, at-risk, and formally homeless Veterans. More than 36,000 Veterans and their family members — including over 6,500 children — were prevented from becoming homeless.
  • Three states — Connecticut, Delaware and Virginia — and 34 communities have announced an effective end of homelessness among Veterans.

This was achieved by providing communities the resources and best practices to succeed. We are ending Veteran homelessness community by community.

Our greatest challenge has been in Los Angeles. That’s why the reduction of Veteran homelessness by more than 1,000 Veterans in Los Angeles County last year, more than any city in the nation, is proof we can succeed.

When I came to VA, I learned we were in the midst of a lawsuit prohibiting us from developing on our almost 400-acre West LA campus. Over time, VA made the decision to rent out parts of the campus to organizations that had no affiliation or positive impact on Veterans. I saw an opportunity to return the campus to its originally intended purpose: to be a home for Veterans. Many members of the community had been advocating for this for years and, in ending the lawsuit, we found our partners.

VA developed a master plan for the campus centered around input from Veterans and the community. Our focus was making our expansive campus a home for those Veterans who had the most need. We listened to input and slowly rebuilt trust with the community. Exactly one year after we announced an end of the lawsuit, we adopted and shared our blueprint for the VA campus outlining how homeless clinical care and services would operate. As we did, our partners stood with us shoulder-to-shoulder. All the VA services that could help a Veteran at risk of homelessness would be in one location. Every remaining tenant on the campus would have a clear goal of helping Veterans. Today, VA’s West LA campus will be the model for what 21st century healthcare should look like.

The coalition of the willing in Los Angeles is indicative of the coalitions I’ve seen built across the country: mayors, members of Congress, state and county officials, local housing authorities, nongovernmental organizations, landlords and developers, philanthropic donors, and our very own VA employees.

At VA, we know we cannot do it alone. A key strategy of the MyVA transformation, the biggest transformation in VA’s history, is embracing strategic partners. There is no better example of the big challenges we can solve together than our fight to end Veteran homelessness.

Homeless in the richest nation in the world is an embarrassment; and in solving it, we began by focusing first on those who were Veterans. Frankly, our progress was achievable because a coordinated network of health care, financial benefits and job training services exist; they exist in VA. As we continue to end homelessness, I know the lessons we learned housing those who have served our nation will serve as a blueprint for ending homeless for all Americans in need.

This article first appeared in the Pasadena Star News.

Author

Bob McDonald

Comments

  1. Ronald Haytack    

    I’m located in Northern California, and have pursued housing assistance numerous times. At one point I managed to become involved with a transitional housing program called Homeward Bound of Marin, they kept me housed, feed and offered additional assistance based on a two year stay (for veterans only), if you were not a Vet. you had six months to organize yourself and your needs.

  2. JIMMY MAYBERRY    

    Thanks Mr. McDonald for all you have done and still plan to do for us veterans. I read many of your posts but normally do not leave a reply. Just wanted to thank you and good luck with the incoming Mr. Trump. They have stated they will take Federal Agency’s power away. Then all you have worked for will be for nothing. But I hope you can overcome that bump in the road also. GOOD LUCK AND THANKS FOR THE GREAT JOB. From: Died in Nam.

  3. Anthony Knox    

    Yeah, well, since there are no other long term Vet housing facilities in Southern California how do I get in on the happiness? I’ve had to gradually drift farther from the coast as years went by to find minimal housing I could afford. Twelve years living in a junk yard owned by an old friend. In part because of no resources. As touchy-feely as this all sounds I’m sure developers are drooling over that VA real estate, a recent news story pointed out that Santa Monica right next to the VA has the highest rents in the nation, $4800 per month for a one bedroom. Think the neighbors of the Vet housing want us there?

  4. Louis Gatto    

    Thanks for ALL you do!!!
    It does not go unnoticed!!!

  5. Jay    

    I’m in Hampton VA. They say there is help for the Veterans. I was homeless in 2011,2012 I had to move to Las Vegas NV to get help getting off the street. Many of us homeless veterans have had to relocate to get help in Hampton VA. I finally got my Section 8 approved that I put in for in 2011 on November 2014. Having to fight the VA here for disability benefits is such a rediclous process. I’m 100 percent disabled and all of my injuries came from serving. The VA gives me 20℅ yet they treat me for them. I’ve been denied increase time and again. Pay me what is due and allow me to live a quality life. Then I won’t have to worry about ever being homeless again and also be able to take care of my family correctly….

    1. Cheryl Bogue    

      Jay join us who are fighting for the rights of vets and widows on Facebook group called widows of AGENT Orange. And Vietnam vets and children and grandchildren of Vietnam vets who has agent Orange and a government who has been convicted of war crimes against humanity and has not done nothing to help vets or Korea and Vietnam. the 3 hundred thousand vets homeless because of BUSH and Colon Powell lies about bombs of mass destruction. See war made easy by Norman Solomon reporter who tells all. Or get the online magazine Guardin or Commons Dreams. They are following Trump who is making the VA to lose power.
      The VA should be ashamed there is a group called widows of AGENT Orange. Some get benefits for brain cance and others with the same brain cancer do not. So the ones who has got benefits help those who has the same brain cancer because the VA will not put on the list. God Bless our VETS and military.

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