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Neighborhood Council Coalition Provides a Hand Up to LA’s Homeless Vets – And the VA Takes the Credit!

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 MY TURN-The Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) got tired of waiting for the City government "powers that be" to do something about the disgraceful homeless veterans situation. They planned an event in late September together with the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council and various non-profits. The purpose was to try and facilitate housing and other services for homeless veterans on Skid Row by bringing them to the West LA Campus of the Veterans Administration. My article, posted on CityWatch on September 24 outlined the details. 

Miraculously, on September 25, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a "state of emergency" (that LANCC had asked for six months earlier) and an allocation of $100 million to address the homeless problem in Los Angeles. The event held by LANCC was on September 26. 

I would love to take credit for the Mayor’s decision but City Hall only works at glacial speed. Some of you even accused me of having either inside information or a crystal ball! In this case, it was truly coincidental. 

Terence Gomes, President of LAANC, had asked for volunteers from the City's Neighborhood Councils. Twenty volunteers from various NC's showed up ... and me! I wanted to see firsthand what benefits the event could produce. The initial meeting place at Gladys Park in the Skid Row area 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 had to register to apply for emergency housing, the bloom quickly faded. 

It is hard to understand how living on the street could be better than registering with the VA -- but that was the case. Only forty homeless people made the trek to the VA’s West LA campus in vans provided by City Councilmember Bonin, who represents Council District 11 where the VA facility is located. 

Gomes and his committee were given space by the VA for the event. Everything else was done by NC 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, sent me some pictures to use in my September 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 looked around at the beautiful grounds. The West LA VA Campus is the largest Veterans facility in the country. It looks like it could be a college campus. But Los Angeles has the largest group of homeless veterans in the country and it’s finally being forced to get its house in order. For years there were unoccupied beds for myriad of reasons, including the fact that there was no kitchen! Commercial enterprises also occupied space in the buildings.  

In January, the facility was sued by the ACLU and forced to make changes. It hired a group of architects, medical facility planners and engineers to come up with a "Master Plan" for the campus. One of the companies involved had worked on Long Beach's impressive new homeless facility. The group is supposed to present its Master Plan on Friday, October 16. They received $1.5 million to put it together, so it will be interesting to see the results. 

I was surprised to see that no one from Councilmember Huizar's office attended the event. I would have thought that, as Chair 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 and if they were going to have a separate veterans homeless committee, since funding would come from different sources. I have yet to receive an answer. The "State of Emergency" Committee was formed in June. At least Councilmember Bonin, the committee’s co-chair, seemed to be a little embarrassed that they hadn't done anything yet. 

Our City Councilmembers are only too happy to post whatever minor achievements they accomplish, using social media and their web sites and newsletters. But I haven’t been able to find any news about the “State of Emergency,” so it looks like there’s been no action. 

The big question is, where are they going to find a $100 million? LANCC and the NC Budget Advocates have requested that City Council allocate $125 million instead of $100 million. This would enable the County to match their $125 million. LANCC would then ask the State and Federal governments for matching funds of $500 million each. According to Gomes, "A billion dollars is necessary to try and make a dent in the homeless problem in the City of Los Angeles." 

I plan to continue to follow the homeless Vets 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 with so many people without housing?  

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that the Public Relations officer had said it was NOT a VA event. Here is a quote from the press release they sent out afterwards: 

“LOS ANGELES – Last week the community and the leadership and staff of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS) were on hand to welcome and provide services to Veterans from Los Angeles skid row. Over 30 veterans were engaged by the outreach effort and 25 agreed to come to the VA for additional housing and supportive services. 

"We are grateful for our partners like Terrence Gomes and the LA Neighborhood Council Coalitions, Veterans Service Organizations and advocates, representatives from Los Angeles County and city, our non-profit partners and most importantly our Veterans," said Vince Kane, Special Assistant to VA Secretary McDonald. 

“Community partners and VA staff at the Veterans Welcome Center on the West Los Angeles VA campus provided clothing, showers, cell phones, a hot meal and emergency housing and other services. ‘Yesterday is a great example of how we can end Veteran homelessness,’ said Kane. ‘We are connecting homeless Veterans with available resources, getting them off the streets.’” 

Interesting. It was, in fact, a successful event...but now the VA has taken most of the credit! You have to love the Bureaucrats. 

As always comments welcome…

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist.  She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

–cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 84

Pub: Oct 12, 2015

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