Attorneys for homeless veterans on Friday praised a newly released written plan by the Department of Veterans Affairs aimed at ending veteran homelessness in Los Angeles.
The plan focuses on developing permanent housing and increased health services at its sprawling West Los Angeles campus specifically for homeless veterans with brain injuries and mental impairment, as well as veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless.
“This plan is a very significant step toward meeting the immediate settlement obligations,” according to a statement issued on behalf of attorneys from Public Counsel, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and Inner City Law Center.
“However, we all recognize that this is only the first step and more will be needed to meet the objective of ending veteran homelessness in L.A. in 2015,” the statement read. “It is not enough for the VA to be fully committed. This entire community must be equally engaged, including local governments and nonprofits, because there will be problems that the VA cannot solve alone and will require real collaboration to solve.”
Federal officials last month agreed to settle a lawsuit in which the ACLU accused the VA of misusing the West Los Angeles campus while impaired veterans remained homeless.
Under the agreement, VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald and attorneys for the lawsuit’s plaintiffs promsed to develop a written plan to help end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles. The city has the nation’s largest population of homeless veterans with and without disabilities. McDonald said he would appoint a special assistant, who will report directly to him, to oversee the plan’s implementation with the necessary resources and support. In its 2011 suit, the ACLU argued that the VA should develop housing for veterans on the 387-acre campus. The suit accused the agency of illegally leasing land to UCLA for its baseball stadium, a television studio for set storage, a hotel laundry and a parking service. It also made a land deal with the private Brentwood School for tennis and basketball courts.
A federal judge in 2013 struck down the leases. More recently, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero halted construction of an amphitheater on the property.
News of the plan comes as officials conduct Los Angeles County’s biennial homeless count. Los Angeles County has more than 4,200 homeless veterans, the most in the nation. Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised to house every homeless veteran in the city by the end of the year, part of a national effort led by the Obama administration to get those who served off the streets.
“We must always keep our sacred promise to ensure that all veterans get the care and benefits they have earned,” Garcetti said in response to the lawsuit settlement. “That’s why I’m very pleased that through this settlement the West Los Angeles veterans campus will provide housing and more resources to our veterans and help us end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles.”
The campus, wedged between Westwood and Brentwood, is the largest undeveloped property on the Westside, and part of the VA’s largest health center. The grounds were deeded to the government more than a century ago as a home for old soldiers.
For 80 years, the VA campus provided shelter and services for thousands of disabled veterans. In the 1960s, it stopped accepting new residents, and structures were either converted to other uses or allowed to deteriorate.
“This plan demonstrates what can be accomplished for our Nation’s veterans when we come together as a community — everyone working together toward the higher goal,” McDonald said. “This is an important first step toward ending Veteran homelessness in Greater L.A. and a model of what we will do across the country.”
— City News Service