Bldgs. 205, 208 and 209 on the VA property in West LA – originally built as mental hospital facilities – have been sitting empty for more than two decades while the homeless population of the county has grown to an estimated 89,000. Something is about to be done about that state of affairs.
Jim Nicholson, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, announced Tuesday, August 21, that he has designated the three multi-story buildings for use in housing homeless veterans, who comprise an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the homeless. Somewhere in the area of 500 veterans could be housed in the buildings, depending upon the operational model to be implemented – a process that will involve the community as well as the VA.
The announcement is the result of a three-year effort to put the resources to work – an effort spearheaded by Santa Monica Councilmember Bobby Shriver. Just last month, Shriver and his brother-in-law, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, walked Nicholson over to see the empty buildings after the groundbreaking ceremonies for a new Veterans Home on the West LA campus. Joining in the effort have been Congressional representatives Henry Waxman and Jane Harman, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles Councilmember Bill Rosendahl.
Shriver praised the commitment (“fantastic in a million different ways”) as an act of a Republican administration supported by Democratic officeholders. Although it took a three-year effort, he pointed out, “a lot of things never get done at all,” and he called the accomplishment “almost miraculous.”
Santa Monica’s Special Representative for Homeless Initiatives, Ed Edelman, told the Mirror, “This is a great day for the region,” and added that “Shriver deserves a lot of credit.” Julie Rusk, Manager of the City’s Human Services Division, said she is “quite excited” by the news. About 10 to 15 percent of the homeless that she deals with in this city are veterans, and so the activation of this “resource that’s been a long time coming” will have a positive impact on Santa Monica, she expects.
The announcement by Secretary Nicholson, who last month tendered his resignation effective upon the naming of his successor, was widely hailed as being consistent with the mission of the VA, the deed by which the property was given to the federal government, and the crying need to serve the estimated 17,000 to 18,000 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County.
The news came as a VA contractor completed its study of the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center under the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) review process, which began in 2004 to upgrade VA health care facilities across the country.
Plans to build a VA columbarium (space for the cremated remains of veterans) and relocate the VA regional office from the Los Angeles Federal Building to the medical center campus are also included in all the options. All options will take into account land already set aside for the new California state nursing home for veterans.
“It is important we receive the thoughts of the Los Angeles community before proceeding with a final plan,” said Nicholson. The recommendations of the Local Advisory Panel and community feedback will be submitted to VA with the final report.