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Plan to House Homeless Vets Gets Go-ahead

By Jorge Casuso

August 22 -- A plan spearheaded by Santa Monica Council member Bobby Shriver to house homeless veterans on the Veterans Administration grounds in West LA took a major leap forward, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Three vacant buildings -- which private developers were hoping to tear down -- have been designated for homeless veterans programs under an initiative launched in 2004 to upgrade VA health care facilities across the country, said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson.

The decision paves the way for the buildings to be used to treat and house some of the estimated 17,000 veterans who sleep on the streets of Los Angeles County, a seemingly growing number of them in Santa Monica

“Our goal is to help these veterans return to their communities as solid citizens, gainfully employed, living independently with restored dignity,” Nicholson said in a prepared statement released Tuesday.

The recommendation by the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services Commission (CARES) comes some five months after Shriver and U.S. Congress members vowed to pressure the administration to act on the plan. (see story)

“It’s done,” said Shriver. “It’s not going to be sold. It’s not going to be an office. It’s not going to be something else. It’s going to be done as a homeless space.

“We had a great team that worked diligently for three years,” said Shriver, who said volunteer staff members Jean Sedillos and Suzy Feldman put in countless hours working on the effort. “There was a tremendous amount of local political support.”

Regional officials, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and top religious leaders who mounted a letter-writing campaign also helped boost the effort, Shriver said.

Shriver, who said he met with Nicholson at least half a dozen times, toured the building in June with Nicholson and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is the council member’s brother-in law.

“He was looking at the construction, at how these buildings are built,” Shriver said.

Area residents who vehemently oppose the plan to use the buildings for homeless services should note that they “were originally built as mental hospitals” and caused no problems for the surrounding neighborhoods, Shriver said.

“They had insane people in these buildings since 1980,” he said. “No one climbed over the fence and crawled into Brentwood.”

The controversy will likely flare during a meeting next month, where the study’s conclusions will be presented to the public and to a Local Advisory Panel appointed by the VA to help the department with its capital master plan.

The proposed plan to use the buildings for the homeless will then be reviewed by the clinical staff of the VA, which will issue a Request for Proposals for an agency that can provide services at the complex.

“There will be some good discussion about what therapeutic model should be there,” said Shriver, who made securing housing for homeless vets at the VA grounds a major campaign pledge in 2004. “The doctors will pick a model.”

In addition to using the three buildings for homeless services, the plans announced by Nicholson Tuesday include building a VA columbarium -- which will provide critically needed space for the cremated remains of veterans -- and relocating the VA regional office to the site.

The regional office, which handles claims for disability pay and other VA benefits, is currently located at the Los Angeles Federal Building.

Relocating the facility to the medical center campus “will provide more convenient services for veterans who need to coordinate medical care with benefits claims processing,” federal officials said.

Options to modernize the facilities at the 16 acres designated for use on the West Los Angeles campus also include the following:
  • Constructing a new VA hospital;
  • Renovating the existing hospital;
  • Building a new VA nursing home, and
  • Modernizing the hospital’s inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities.

Built in 1976, the seven-story, 900,000-square-foot hospital is the largest of the 91 structures on the VA grounds, which was deeded in 1888 for the sole purpose of housing the Pacific Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

Eleven of the buildings, including the three designated for the homeless veterans, are currently vacant.

The public meeting to discuss the proposals is scheduled for September 6 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Wadsworth Theater on the campus of the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, 11301 Wilshire Boulevard.

The meeting is the third public forum the Local Advisory Panel has held since the beginning of the CARES process. Time will be set aside for questions, and for community members to provide VA with their input on the proposed modernization plans.

All options will take into account land already set aside for a new California state nursing home for veterans, VA officials said.

“It is important we receive the thoughts of the Los Angeles community before proceeding with a final plan,” said Nicholson.

The recommendations of the Local Advisory Panel and community feedback will be submitted to VA with the final report, officials said.


“Our goal is to help these veterans return to their communities as solid citizens, gainfully employed, living independently with restored dignity.” Jim Nicholson


“There was a tremendous amount of local political support.” Bobby Shriver


“They had insane people in these buildings since 1980. No one climbed over the fence and crawled into Brentwood.” Bobby Shriver


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