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Project begins to get homeless veterans off L.A. County streets

The Department of Veterans Affairs, working with local government officials and nonprofits, is initially targeting the 60 most fragile veterans in the next two years.

February 17, 2011|By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with local government officials and nonprofits to get the 60 most vulnerable homeless veterans off the streets of Los Angeles County in two years, officials said Wednesday.

Modeled after the county's Project 50 on skid row, the pilot project offers chronically homeless veterans a permanent home in the hope that they will accept medical treatment, mental health counseling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, job training or other services.

About 7,400 of the more than 48,000 people who are believed to be homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County are veterans. They include about 1,415 veterans considered to be chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for at least a year and suffer from a serious health issue, mental illness or addiction.

"These men and women deserve nothing less than the full attention of the nation in their hour of need, just as they gave us their lives in our hour of need," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, speaking at the project's launch Wednesday at the Veterans Affairs campus in Westwood.

He hopes that Vets to Home Project 60 will change the way that Veterans Affairs handles its toughest homeless cases.

"The VA has tremendous resources, far more than any county in the country, far more than a nonprofit does," Yaroslavsky said. "So if the VA becomes convinced that this is the way to solve the veteran homelessness problems, and they turn loose their resources, it will be a tsunami of housing and services for a significant part of our homeless population."

The so-called housing-first approach is controversial because it does not require that people get sober before they are housed. But advocates say a permanent place to sleep is the anchor that makes it possible for chronically homeless people to get their lives back on track.

Project 60 targets the most fragile veterans in Hollywood, Santa Monica, Van Nuys and Venice — communities that have conducted surveys to identify those individuals most likely to die on the streets.

The project comes with no new money but has brought new cooperation among Veterans Affairs, federal, county and city officials, and homeless service providers, said Michelle Wildy, chief of community care for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Veterans Affairs is providing housing vouchers and services with the help of four nonprofits — Ocean Park Community Center, San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, St. Joseph Center and Step Up on Second.

So far, 11 veterans have moved into apartments and are receiving case management; three are in transitional housing and 14 are applying for housing vouchers, according to project members who have been meeting since October.

Wildy hopes the number eventually will grow to 600 or more.

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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