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City Supports Efforts to Designate VA Property for Homeless Veterans:

An alliance of homeless service organizations, elected officials and non-profit housing providers joined forces Thursday, September 22 to urge the Veterans Administration to designate property on the West Los Angeles VA campus for long-term therapeutic supportive housing to serve from 300 to 500 homeless veterans.

The proposal, along with several others – including one from a commercial developer — was presented at a lively public hearing before the Local Advisory Panel for the Veterans Administration West Los Angeles land use study – or Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced (CARES) — at the Wadsworth Theater on VA grounds.

A coalition of providers who assist homeless veterans — New Directions, The Salvation Army, US VETS, and Volunteers of America of Greater Los Angeles — worked on the proposal, which is supported by the City of Santa Monica, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and A Community of Friends.

The meeting ran 10 hours, with comments from the public making up the last several hours of what had become a very long work day for the panel.

Several hundred community members filled the Wadsworth, and made their preferences known both by making comments to the panel and through a show of hands when asked if they (as a group) supported a particular proposal.

Judging from the show of hands poll, the Coalition’s proposal appeared to be well-supported by the participants present at the meeting.

The VA campus, which spans Wilshire Boulevard, between Federal Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, is one of the last large open spaces left on the Westside of Los Angeles, and many in the theater’s seats were there to make it known they wanted it to stay that way.

The possibility of seemingly greatest concern to the attendees was a proposed mixed-use residential, office and commercial development on land is currently empty, which received much criticism.

The Coalition proposes reusing and re-purposing three existing buildings on the VA campus for long-term housing for homeless veterans with special needs.

“The CARES process is bringing us all together to house and heal chronically homeless and disabled veterans–some of our nation’s neediest citizens,” said Santa Monica Council member Bobby Shriver, who spearheaded the effort to create the coalition and enlisted the proposal’s supporters. “In the lobby of the West LA VA hospital, a sign reads, ’The cost of war is visible here.’ The cost of war is also visible on our city streets. This new housing will give hundreds more homeless Vets access to the many successful rehabilitative programs the VA already has in place on the West LA campus.”

The panel of eight local leaders in the fields of health care and veterans’ affairs will consider the various proposals at public hearings to be scheduled over the next few months and then make its recommendations to the Office of Veterans’ Affairs.

Los Angeles Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and officials from neighboring cities including Culver City and West Hollywood, support the proposal, and Santa Monica Councilmembers Shriver and Bob Holbrook spoke in favor of it at the meeting. In a statement released by the City, Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor noted that the broad-based support by local elected officials confirms that both the problem of homelessness and measures to end it must and will be addressed regionally.

No specific service agencies have been identified for to provide services if the proposal is accepted. As of now, the VA is focusing only on its land use issues, and acquiring the buildings as the first step in the coalition’s plan.

The coalition proposes that the VA award long-term leases through a competitive bidding process open to organizations experienced in developing and operating housing and support services for homeless veterans. Selected organizations would then be responsible for financing, developing, and operating the new veteran housing, which would be a significant challenge, but one the proposal states would be feasible.To ensure neighborhood compatibility, the proposal recommends that public input be solicited via a community advisory board and incorporated into all plans for the housing’s development and operation. The full text of the proposal can be viewed at the City of Santa Monica website: http://santa-monica.org/hsd.

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