MY TURN-Last week I wrote in CityWatch about my experience volunteering at the Neighborhood Council’s homeless veterans event. In case you missed it, I’m going to include some of that information today…but several things have happened since then. I want to give you an update.
Here’s a quick review of the political situation that’s evolved since last week: There were rumors on Facebook that City Attorney Mike Feuer had told the Mayor that his “State of Emergency on Homelessness” declaration and allocation of $100 million was overstepping his jurisdiction. I investigated every source I could find and (surprise, surprise) nothing like that happened. This is why we should always check out these statements. People say the most outrageous things on Facebook.
Since 2009 the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce has worked in partnership with the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to pioneer a new approach to end chronic and veteran homelessness through the creation of permanent supportive housing.
According to Gary Toebben, the chamber’s President and CEO, "This effort, known as Home for Good, began with visits to other communities that were making progress in meeting this difficult challenge. Taking advantage of their lessons learned, Home for Good was born and in five years we have housed 9,305 chronically homeless and 14,094 homeless vets. Key components of Home for Good’s success include a Coordinated Entry System and a Funders’ Collaborative that has invested more than $730 million.
"In 2009 we were told time and again by federal agencies focused on homelessness that there was no way to get the City and County of L.A. to work together. We are proud that our efforts have encouraged a new sense of collaboration that was obvious Tuesday when the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and three members of the L.A. City Council jointly hosted U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. I attended that meeting and applaud the collaboration of all the elected officials in the room.
“This new commitment by the City and County provides an opportunity to bolster the drive to end chronic and veteran homelessness and put into place additional efforts to address short term homelessness. It will enable our community to focus more resources on outreach and assistance to those with mental challenges, substance abuse and individuals who might endanger public safety.”
Great minds think alike. Half of the suggestions (noted in last week's article) from of Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition's (LANCC) Terrence Gomes were accepted...a matching $100 million from LA County. So far, they have skipped the State and gone right to the Federal government. Secretary Castro said that the request would be analyzed in the Spring. No one has mentioned getting matching funds from the State of California.
Government at all levels seems to be in the mode of "hurry up and wait.” LANCC got tired of waiting for the City government "powers that be" to do something about the disgraceful situation of having so many homeless veterans in Los Angeles. They planned an event last month together with the DowntownLA NC and various non-profits. The purpose was to try to facilitate housing and other services for homeless veterans on Skid Row by bringing them to the West LA Campus of the Veterans Administration.
Gomes had asked for volunteers from the City's Neighborhood Councils (NC). Twenty people from various NCs showed up…and me! I wanted to see firsthand what benefits the event could produce. The meeting place at Gladys Park in Skid Row was crowded. Word had spread that there was going to be food, drink, and clothes available. Unfortunately, when some of the veterans discovered that they also had to register to apply for emergency housing, the bloom quickly faded.
It is hard to understand why living on the street is better than registering with the VA but that was the case. Only forty homeless vets made the trek to the West LA campus in vans provide by Councilmember Mike Bonin in whose district (CD11) the VA facility is located.
Gomes and his committee were given space by the VA for the event. Everything else was done by the volunteers. Additional support was provided by:
City of Los Angeles Dept. of Sanitation/ Kevin James - recycle bags
San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission - provided showers and hygiene kits
M.E.N.D.- (a non-profit food service) provided hot meals, drinks, and dessert
Hope Mill Inc. - courtesy packs
UCLA - towels
California Shopping Cart Retrieval - shopping cart pick-up on Skid Row
Assembly Members Patty Lopez, Benny Bernal, and David Hernandez - underwear and socks
Boost Mobile/Noah Gordon- cell phones
Clothing: various other donors
Sponsoring organizations set up their wares on tables and the veterans were able to go through the line and take what they wanted. The cell phone area was mobbed. Lunch was healthy, tasty and plentiful.
When I arrived in West LA, there was a Channel 7 ABC News truck and several gentlemen in suits gathered in that area. The head of the VA’s Public Relations seemed to be there mainly to tell us what we couldn't do. I wanted to take some pictures to go with my article and, even though we agreed to get a signed waiver or shoot from far away, the PR person was adamant, saying that the event was not a VA event and we were restricted as to what we could and could not do. Someone, who was approved to take photos, would send me some pictures to use in my article.
I began to understand why the VA gets such a bad rap. This bunch of men in suits (plus one women,) stood around in the shade. They never offered to even move a chair, much less interact with the Veterans who had made the trip. I asked the Public Relations people if I could interview the Director of the VA who was identified as one of the “suits” standing around.
I was told "no" since that was his last day and a new Director was starting on Monday. This was the attitude of personnel dealing with volunteers. I can only imagine how those who have no options are treated.
I did get a chance to have some good conversations. It was very difficult to not show the emotions I was feeling...it broke my heart. One young man, no older than his late-twenties, had availed himself of the showers, a shave, new clothes and shoes. As he came through the lunch line, I remarked, "Aren't you a handsome dude." You would have thought I’d given him a million dollars. I thought we both were going to burst into tears.
I joined another gentleman at lunch who looked as if he could have been a volunteer, not a homeless person. He told me that until a week ago he had been sleeping near a church in Lancaster. The morning that he was woken up by their sprinklers was the morning he decided to get help.
The VA had personnel on hand to help applicants go through the process of registration. With their new cell phones, they could now be reminded of their future appointments. All those who asked for housing received it. And that was a positive!
I was surprised to see no one from Council Member (CM) Jose Huizar's office. I would have thought that, as Chairman of the new Homeless Committee, he would have wanted to see if these kinds of events have merit. I queried his office about their plans asking if they were going to have a separate homeless veterans committee since funding would come from different sources. I have yet to receive an answer.
This "State of Emergency" Committee on homelessness was formed back in June. At least CM Bonin, its co-chair, who provided transportation from Skid Row and back, seemed to be a little embarrassed that they hadn't done anything. (Hopefully both Bonin and Huizar attended the Tuesday meeting with Secretary Castro.)
Two representativesfrom the office of Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (54th District) did attend the event in West LA. Scott Malsin, District Director, and Brian Ross Adams both offered to help with future events for homeless veterans.
Of course the VA news release on the NC event made it seem like they had organized the entire thing and that LANCC was just a contributing partner. It’s amazing how they took the credit when it was successful but went out of the way to make it difficult for the people actually doing the event.
Last Friday, the group chosen to develop to a "master plan" for the West LA VA campus presented a preliminary report on their vision. They were paid a $1.5 million to have it ready but apparently it is being done in stages. Perhaps they need to get opinions from the various segments involved and then present a final plan in January. Knowing how these things work in government, we will be lucky if any part of the plan gets executed by 2017.
As you probably know, this idea was not originated by the West LA Veterans Administration. It was forced on them when the ACLU sued them for improper utilization of their facilities -- and won!
I am planning to continue to follow the homeless veterans’ situation and bring you updates. This is a blight on our city which must be rectified. How can we claim to be a world class city when so many veterans who protected us don't have a roof over their heads?
The Mayor spoke recently about cooperation between the County and the City in his "State of the City Economy" address at the United Chambers of Commerce annual "Mayor's Lunch.”
Usually those two entities are busy blaming each other for various misdeeds, so it will be a refreshing change to see them work together.
As always comments welcome.
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 86
Pub: Oct 23, 2015