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VA commits $20 million to convert West L.A. building into therapeutic homeless facility

Secured after a long-term effort, the commitment marks a milestone in the county's efforts to aid chronically homeless veterans, public officials say.

June 29, 2010|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has approved $20 million in funding to convert a little-used building at the West Los Angeles VA campus into therapeutic housing for chronically homeless veterans — a plan that has been years in the making.

The action was jointly announced Monday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Yaroslavsky said the commitment marked a milestone that "has been a long time coming."

He credited Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver with proposing in 2004 that three unused or underused buildings on the campus be converted to help ease the county's homeless veteran problem. Los Angeles County has nearly 6,540 veterans sleeping on the streets each night, according to the statement from Feinstein, Waxman and Yaroslavsky.

Shriver and others became frustrated as the veterans agency engaged in a drawn-out process of securing money to convert the buildings, coupled with what seemed to be little enthusiasm for the idea. Nudging from Feinstein, Waxman and Yaroslavsky helped pushed the project forward.

At a June 16 meeting in Washington, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki committed $20 million in funding to renovate and rehabilitate Building 209, part of a "historic district" on the campus. Of that amount, half will go toward seismic work, and the rest will be used to convert the building into living quarters and facilities for social services.

Yaroslavsky said the aim was to eventually secure additional funding to convert two other buildings.

He projected that 70 to 90 chronically homeless veterans could eventually be housed in each of the buildings.

"We finally got to first base," Shriver said. "But I want to get to second, third and home base ASAP."

The program would offer housing with medical care, mental health treatment and other services to those deemed most vulnerable.

The VA funding "marks the first meaningful commitment by the VA to house chronically homeless veterans," Yaroslavsky said.

Most recently, Building 209 has housed a print studio workshop where veterans learn silk screening and print making skills. The workshop is part of the Strawberry Flag project, a strawberry-growing operation in the shape of a giant U.S. flag spearheaded by artist Lauren Bon and psychiatrist Jonathan Sherin, associate chief of mental health for the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center. Veterans tend the strawberries and make preserves.

martha.groves@latimes.com

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