Waxman and Feinstein renew push for homeless vets
The lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the Veterans Administration last week reflects a split among local leaders over how best to solve the problem of homelessness among local veterans. On one side are such governmental insiders as L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who see the VA making progress toward a solution, albeit slowly. On the other are cage-rattlers like Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver, who argue that tectonic plates move faster than the VA.
The two sides agree, however, that the VA should make good more rapidly on a promise to convert three underused buildings on its campus in West Los Angeles into therapeutic housing for several hundred vets. On Monday, Waxman and Feinstein sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and White House Budget Director Jack Lew to complain about the lack of progress made since President Obama included funding for part of the project in his budget request for fiscal 2012.
Specifically, the lawmakers said, the VA has to ask Congress to authorize that $20 million be spent on the project. Shinseki said last June that he had found the money to convert one of the buildings -- the empty Building 209 -- into a facility for chronically homeless vets in need of treatment. It's not a new appropriation, exactly; it's money the VA received previously for major construction projects but didn't spend. The dollars can't be put to use in West L.A., however, until appropriators approve the transfer.
Even without the funding, the VA has completed more than half the design work for the building. Still, the completed project would provide housing for just a fraction of the vets in need. The facility is expected to have room for 70 to 90 residents, compared to an estimated 7,000 homeless vets in the greater Los Angeles area -- roughly a third of whom could be categorized as chronically homeless vets who need a combination of housing and treatment.
The ACLU's lawsuit, which Shriver helped instigate, would force the VA to provide permanent supportive housing on its West L.A. campus for every veteran who needs it. Yaroslavsky and his allies, on the other hand, would reserve the West L.A. campus for the most severe cases -- those in need of therapeutic care. The rest of the chronically homeless would be served through supportive housing set-ups spread around the county.
-- Jon Healey
Credit: AP Photo / Reed Saxon