Los Angeles Is (Almost) Halfway to Ending Homelessness for Veterans

Homeless, on bench(Image: Homeless, on bench via Shutterstock)In January, the Department of Veterans Affairs settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of ten homeless veterans in Los Angeles. The suit, filed by the ACLU, alleged misuse of the 387-acres that houses the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center. The settlement ends not just the three year old case, but continues the journey of ending homelessness among Los Angeles veterans. It’s a hard won battle that began more than a century ago, during the post-Civil War years.

Arcadia Bandini-Stearns deBaker was born in Los Angeles to Don Juan Bandini, a wealthy Mexican ranchero and Dolores Estudio from San Diego. Arcadia, who never spoke a word of English, was one of the first Los Angeles socialites and was known for her beauty, wealth and business acumen. In 1888, she and her second husband, Col. Robert Symington Baker, a transplant from Rhode Island who became a wealthy landowner and co-founder of the city of Santa Monica, deeded several hundred acres of land to the US Government. The deed specifically required that the land be established as a National Home for Disabled Veterans. That land is the nearly 400 acres that makes up part of the largest healthcare system within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For almost 80 years, the land did house soldiers. However, over the decades, the area became prime real estate located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in on the west side of Los Angeles. This made it a target for developers and intense political wrangling, not to mention shady deals. The VA never followed through on the deeded use much past the medical facility and cemetery. More than 120 years later, instead of housing for veterans, the land has been leased for a baseball stadium, storage space for a television studio, a hotel laundry service, as well as tennis and basketball courts for a local private school. Many of these leases were priced at below market value. At the time of the lawsuit, plans were being drawn up to build an amphitheater.

All of this was happening while Los Angeles had the largest population of homeless veterans in the country, some of whom can be found sleeping under an overpass just steps away from the front entrance.

Even before a federal judge halted the leases and stopped construction on the amphitheater, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to end veterans’ homelessness in the city by the end of 2015. The Los Angeles City council had already made it easier for homeless vets to get priority for subsidized housing, but that wasn’t enough for the nearly 7,000 estimated homeless veterans living on the streets of Los Angeles. The Mayor partnered with the Home for Good initiative, which is a “public and private partnership with over 100 members, led by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.” By the time the ACLU settlement was announced, more than 3,300 veterans had found supportive housing in 2014, which included a number of veterans who were ineligible for VA housing. This put the Mayor nearly halfway to his goal.

This week, the Mayor’s office announced the opening of the first ever Women Veteran Housing program. Located in the San Pedro community which also houses the port of Los Angeles, the Blue Butterfly Village is a converted unused Naval housing area containing 76 two-bedroom, rent-subsidized single family homes. Several of the soldiers will be transitioning from shelters. In addition to housing, the community provides supportive services for the women, many of whom have suffered sexual abuse during their service, as well as help to become self-sufficient while juggling the responsibilities of motherhood.

At last count, Los Angeles estimated more than 4,000 homeless veterans, many of whom are disabled and suffer from mental illness. The settlement announced in January includes building transitional and permanent housing, with initial plans to be drawn up by October. They are also required to provide housing for women and seniors. According the VA, there will be enough dormitories and beds to house every homeless veteran in the city.