Shriver Pushes Campaign to Target VA Facilities for Homeless Vets
By Olin Ericksen
December 21 -- With the fate of West LA's Veterans Administration Buildings in the balance, Santa Monica Council member Bobby Shriver is urging area residents to launch a letter writing campaign to designate the facilities as shelters for homeless veterans.
By late January or early February, Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson is expected to make his decision on the future of the buildings, which are considered a prime Westside real estate only a few miles from Santa Monica.
Several options are on the table including selling the struggling VA buildings to private developers to recoup costs, or setting up a drug distribution center on the site. But it's the idea of keeping it for housing homeless veterans that has gained the backing of Council member Shriver and several Westside community groups.
"Those particular buildings should be focused on homeless veterans, of whom there are many, maybe hundreds," Shriver said at last week's City council meeting. "They're sleeping on the beach here rather than sleeping in the VA, which is ten minutes from here. That is wrong. It has to be changed."
The proposal backed by Shriver -- who has used his considerable political connections as a Kennedy to lobby the issue -- also received a boost from Westsiders during a series of public meetings earlier this year.
Members of an advisory panel unanimously adopted four principles, including keeping the site free of commercial development and insuring that the land be used for veterans.
With between 500 and 800 beds available under the plan and supportive services within walking distance, the site would be a convenient care and recovery facility for veterans who, for whatever reason, have fallen on hard times, Shriver said.
In addition, the idea is to make up to 50 percent of the beds available for “the chronic homeless,” those who have been on the street the longest, usually battling addiction or mental illness.
While hard numbers are not yet available, officials at area hospitals, police, paramedics and fire personnel agree the move could save municipal emergency systems, including Santa Monica’s, tens of thousands of dollars every year.
Freeing up that money, proponents contend, could help ease the burden on service providers, allowing them to focus on other homeless populations in Santa Monica, where it has been estimated nearly 2,000 individuals sleep on the streets every night.
Homeless experts place the number of people who live on the streets of Los Angeles County at 92,000. It is unknown exactly how many are veterans.
Despite the backing from Shriver and other Westside officials and the community, the plan to help homeless veterans is far from a done deal, Shriver said.
Putting pen to paper in a letter writing campaign is the best way to push federal officials to keep the facilities for veterans, especially those who are homeless.
"Write (Nicholson) a letter and say that the chronically homeless veterans should be served on the VA grounds," said Shriver.
"The way to make change...is for the people to rise up and demand that it be changed,” he said. “The way to demand that is to write to Secretary Nicholson."
For more information on the proposed plans for the West LA Veterans Administration buildings, please visit www.va.gov/cares/
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