'Long Overdue,' Ground Breaks on New Housing for Homeless Vets

Building 209 will house 66 of Los Angeles' hardest-to-reach veterans, providing them with shelter and access to mental health treatment and jobs.

It took more than five years, lawmakers weren't shy to point out, but Veterans Affairs broke ground Friday on new apartments that will shelter some of area's hardest-to-reach homeless veterans.

The VA is starting renovations to convert Building 209, a vacant and historic stucco building on the West Los Angeles Medical Center campus in Brentwood, into transitional housing for 66 veterans with mental health and medical needs.

"We have to go after the people who have refused us time after time," who have substance abuse or mental health problems, said Los Angeles County Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The veterans will have access to physicians, nutritionists and counselors, along with help shopping, cooking and finding jobs. The goal is to eventually transition them into their own permanent housing, where they can "lead independent and productive lives in the community," said Donna Beiter, the VA's healthcare systems director in the L.A. area.

Michelle O'Neil, who became homeless after serving 11 years in the Army reserves in the 1980s, said when veterans are placed in stable environments and get help doing daily tasks they "can't go wrong."

She led the Pledge of Allegiance at Friday's ground breaking ceremony.

With the same type of assistance that will be provided at Building 209, O'Neil said she was able to find a job, then earn her bachelor's degree in human services. Now she's working towards a master's degree in social services, works at the VA facility in downtown Los Angeles and volunteers with the Santa Monica Police Department's homeless liaison program.

"If they don't have to stress about food, if they have everything they need in one place, they can focus on 'the normal person phase,'" she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the VA on allegations veterans currently have limited access to, or are prohibited from accessing about one-third of the sprawling West L.A. campus. The lawsuit seeks to prevent the federal government from renting some of its space to private companies that do not provide health care-related services.

In 2007, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson designated three buildings—buildings 205, 208, and 209—to be renovated for long-term therapeutic housing for homeless veterans, said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

"It is now more than five years later, and while we recognize this first step today, it is long overdue," he said.

Amenities at the renovated Building 209 will include: a library, a multipurpose room for activities like yoga, a kitchen and internet cafe. It will also include a wing for women veterans undergoing treatment.

"This is the beginning of a new day," said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who was a social worker at Ft. Carson in Colorado during the Vietnam War.

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August Jones January 28, 2013 at 12:45 AM
People don't realize NOT ONE PENNY of the funding for the homeless ever TOUCHES a homeless person's fingers...it all goes into the pockets of the Poverty Pimps (who are not poor & not homeless).
Tina January 28, 2013 at 06:15 PM
2007! 5 YEARS LATER and THIS is all that will happen? Granted, it sounds promising, so did the decision 5 years ago. MOVE FASTER! The VA grounds should be IMMEDIATELY opened and allow the homeless to occupy the grounds until Building 209 is ready for occupation. SET UP port-a-potties for Heaven's Sake! I live one block from this fortress with it's fencing keeping all off the grounds. I see the mentally ill VA veterans DAILY in my backyard (carport). Defecation and Urine in our front and alley carport parking EVERY OTHER DAY. Every rainy season my motorcycle cover is stripped and stolen by the homeless in my neighborhood (mentally ill or veteran or not). - Yes, a small price to help a poor soul who should have been inside a building protected from the elements.
Tina January 28, 2013 at 06:16 PM
I applauded the move back in 2007, but this is TOO little TOO late. Make it worth More and help these people who have helped our country - or those who just need the help who may not be veterans. Not every homeless veteran (or not) person who lives outside will be easily persuaded inside. Many have lived outside for too many years and refuse the indoor life. Provide a safe outdoor space for them to live, where their blankets won't be taken by the police (or any others) in an effort to 'move them along'. Plus while we're at it, let's include a building for the homeless who are not veterans. August J has a good point and is correct. So is Brenda's. So is everyone who has commented. This is not an easily solved problem. Why don't we all ask ourselves how WE can help and assist, instead of laying the blame elsewhere? I've been involved with DoSomeThingSaturday for over 4 years. How are YOU (dear readers) involved - donating money just isn't enough.
Linda Lucks January 28, 2013 at 08:16 PM
I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for building 209 which will serve as temporary housing for 66 veterans in desperate need of help. We must continue pressuring our elected officials to do more, more, more for the 8000 homeless vets on the streets of Los Angeles who are NOT being helped. Each of us must think of what we as individuals to help make a difference. There are many more empty buildings at the WLA VA and at VA facilities all over the nation that are dedicated solely for use and as homes for veterans. Call and write the President, Congress and Senators and Council members. We must take responsibility. The WLA Winter Shelter counted 84 vets coming in out of the cold one night last week at the WLA Armory alone.. They should be housed at the VA, not in a winter shelter. We can help them.
Brenda Barnes January 28, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Somewhere, deep in their hearts, people do know the homeless programs we have had do not help the homeless, August. There are too many studies saying that for people who care not to know, and even people who don't care can see how many unhoused people there are on the streets. All we can do is just keep saying the reason there are unhoused people by the millions is the federal government starting with Kemp and Reagan stopped building low-income housing. You can use whatever excuse you want, but when housing is expensive and jobs are few, with many of those minimum wage ones that cannot pay for rents and mortgages as high as they are, there will be many many millions without homes. After Katrina the government there used the excuse to demiolish low-income housing buildings that were in good shape, to replace them with single-family houses built by foundations and selling for far more than any low-income person can afford. It all goes back to congregating the poor in a very small area of town and then blaming them because there are so many and it is an even worse area than it was. Poverty is not a punishment put on people for sinning. Sinning, as the do-gooders really feel what poor people do is, is what happens when people are poor.


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