Homeless veterans who have had trouble finding free programs offering long-term housing, job training and substance abuse treatment in one facility will have a place to go when the New Directions Regional Center for Homeless Veterans opens a year from now in West Los Angeles.
The center, coordinated and operated by the West Los Angeles-based nonprofit New Directions, will house and train 156 men in a building that is now vacant on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Los Angeles. New Directions operates two similar, though much smaller, programs for 16 homeless veterans--men and women--in Mar Vista.
More than $1 million of the $5.3-million cost to refurbish the building came from the cities closest to the Westside VA, making it the first regional homeless facility in Los Angeles County, said Toni Reinis, executive director of New Directions. At Friday's groundbreaking ceremony, smiles stretched wide across the faces of the veterans who attended.
"I wish I'd have had a place where people would listen to me and help me when I got out of Vietnam," said Robert Williams, who used to be homeless. "You talk to some of these vets, and they still have nothing going on."
A plethora of opportunities await veterans who are accepted as residents of the New Directions program: detoxification, substance abuse counseling sessions, skills training, educational classes, computer workshops, legal services and more. The extent to which the veterans use the resources depends on their goals--some may choose to pursue a career in computers, while others simply may want to learn basic skills such as balancing a checkbook and opening a bank account.
The residents, who are allowed to stay in the program for up to two years, will have to work for their money since New Directions teaches veterans in its programs to not rely on federal, state or local public assistance. Some residents may find jobs with the businesses that New Directions plans to open and operate from its VA-based facility--a wholesale bakery and a construction company are two possibilities.
Twenty-four veterans, those who have trouble holding down jobs, will have permanent spots in the program. New Directions will help them find work, and a portion of their earnings will go to the organization to pay for their room and board.
Money for the renovations came from Beverly Hills, Culver City, Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The building was the first to be acquired under Title V of the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which required HUD to make underutilized federal buildings available for homeless programs, Reinis said.
Federal and local representatives were out in full force for the dedication--most of them calling New Directions an inspiration.
"We need programs like New Directions in every community in America," said Santa Monica Mayor Paul Rosenstein.