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VA Starts Long-Awaited Renovation of Housing Facility

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 28, 2013 -- The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Friday to celebrate the start of a $20 million renovation project at the VA’s West Los Angeles Medical Center campus.

The project, which has been in the offing since 2007, would turn the currently-unused Building 209 into a 55-unit “therapeutic and supportive” housing complex for upwards of 65 of the region’s homeless veterans.

But with thousands of homeless vets in the region, the renovation of Building 209 is just the beginning of what officials say is a much larger plan to end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles by 2015.

Former Santa Monica City Council member Bobby Shriver said that now, with President Barack Obama pulling American troops out of Afghanistan, housing for veterans with mental illness and disabilities is paramount.

"They are coming home right now," Shriver said. "What's the plan?"

"We're going to have 65 beds for these people," he said.

A vocal advocate of getting the VA to build more housing for vets, Shriver was a driving force.

Shriver was a driving force behind a 2011 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the West Los Angeles VA, alleging that it was misusing the 387-acre parcel deeded it in 1888.

The suit alleged that the VA was failing to live up to its obligation to use the land to provide the much-needed housing.

The suit came four years after VA Secretary Jim Nicholson dedicated Buildings 208, 205 and 209 to be renovated to house homeless vets.

Though Congressman Henry Waxman -- who was at Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony -- applauded the fact that the VA is moving forward with the renovation of Building 209, he qualified the success.

“We won’t be able to celebrate, however, until every veteran in Los Angeles has access to the services he or she needs,” he said.

Building 209 is one of three, including Buildings 205 and 208, which have sat unused on the VA’s campus for decades.

Waxman pledged to find funding to renovate the remaining two buildings.

“Because Los Angeles has the highest number of homeless veterans in the nation, the success or failure of this pledge rests here with the West LA VA,” he said.

Waxman also acknowledged that progress toward this groundbreaking had been slow.

The West Los Angeles VA “should be leading the nation in developing new strategies for outreach, finding the smartest use of resources, and providing services with minimal delay and unnecessary red tape,” he said.

In order to have access to those services, Shriver said, vets with moderate to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related mental illnesses need to be housed.

Many don't seek the services while they are living on the street, he said.

Critics of the West Los Angeles VA administration would also like to see officials cut through the red tape.

"This step took nine years. Is it going to take another nine years" to renovate one of the other buildings? Shriver asked.

The 51,500-square-foot, three-story complex will have a dedicated women’s wing, “a secure reception area, a library, a multipurpose room that may host yoga, tai chi, and healthy living classes, a kitchen where Veterans can learn to cook, and an internet café,” VA officials said.

"What's the next step?" Shriver asked rhetorically. "To me, that's the biggest question."

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