Friday, February 3, 2023
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Editor’s Note: Virginia needs to better accommodate homeless veterans on its West Los Angeles campus.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has failed miserably in its promise to house homeless veterans on its sprawling West Los Angeles campus.

Following the settlement of a 2015 lawsuit by homeless veterans alleging that VA is not meeting the 387-acre campus’ original goal of offering a home to veterans, master plans were developed and updated, a consortium of three developers was hired, and a pledge to provide at least 1,200 units of permanent supportive housing to homeless veterans .

Seven years later, all these efforts led to the opening of only 54 units of permanent housing for homeless veterans – housing that was started even before the settlement. This is ridiculously short of the 480 units envisaged by the master plan by September 2020.

So it’s clear now another lawsuit filed by 14 homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area who have nowhere to live, suffer from various mental or physical disabilities, and have no easy way to get to the on-campus medical center. (The National Veterans Fund is also named as a plaintiff.) The suit seeks that VA build 1,200 homes on campus in six months and lease out an additional 2,500 units in existing apartments within a five-mile radius.

According to the latest homeless count in Los Angeles County in February, count homeless veterans amounted to 3456 people. According to the lawsuit, even though the number of homeless veterans in the county has dropped from 3,902 in 2020 to its current figure, the Los Angeles area still has the highest number of homeless veterans.

Virginia, following a trend in Los Angeles and other cities, has built over 100 tiny (64 square feet) prefabricated shelters on its property. The villages of these houses usually have a central array of toilets and showers. But they were an inadequate short-term solution, according to the plaintiffs, who complained about dirty bathrooms and other problems. In September, a fire destroyed 11 houses. No harm done. (Virginia state officials have said they are upgrading their toilets.)

“Even under the VA’s most optimistic and recent plans, thousands of veterans will continue to live and die on the streets of Los Angeles in the coming years,” the lawsuit says.

This is unacceptable.

Virginia officials say nothing is more important than ending veteran homelessness. They can prove it by striving to catch up with the master plan. The delay, according to VA and developers, is due to the two years it took to complete an environmental impact report, repair underground utilities, and raise funds needed by developers to begin construction.

The developers claim that the pace of building and unlocking units will accelerate after all this is done. First, 182 new properties are expected to be built and open to habitation by early next year. In addition, 380 more units are expected to be built by the end of this year. Some have already laid the groundwork. Developers are grateful to Sheila Qual, who just left her office as Los Angeles County Superintendent, for helping speed up the development process and to the County Housing Authority for helping us secure hundreds of housing vouchers. intended for veterans from the county who will be attached to the units as rent.

Need to finance and build more units. We would like VA to use some of the income coming to campus, especially in the form of rent, part of the cost of housing construction. This may speed up the process a bit.

The prospect of building hundreds of additional apartments in the next few years is promising, but VA must make housing its biggest priority on this campus. Otherwise, this project will drag on forever while the veterans live in tents on the sidewalks.

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