$5-million program finds housing for only 268 veterans, report says

A $5-million program to assist homeless veterans has helped only 268 get off the streets over 18 months, according to a recent Los Angeles County civil grand jury report — in part because a $1.2-million contract to provide interim shelter has been delayed for nearly a year.

Homes for Heroes, a county program funded by the federal government, provides interim shelter to veterans and pays for move-in costs and minor repairs for landlords who agree to rent to ex-service members. But from January 2016 to June 2017, the report said, the program has helped more property owners, 363, than it has veterans.

The “bridge” housing contract was put out to bid by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in September, but the agency had not reached agreement with providers by the time the report — which was released in late June — was prepared, the grand jury said.

Tom Waldman, spokesman for the homeless services authority, said the contract process began in November and the agency reached agreement in April with a provider to house eight veterans.

A second provider, Volunteers of America, had been expected to furnish shelter for 72 more but lost its site. That contract will be executed when Volunteers of America finds a new location, Waldman said.

Phil Ansell, director of the county’s homeless initiative, said the grand jury’s information was seven months old. “In the ensuing months, progress has been made, although more certainly remains to be done,” Ansell said in a written statement.

Despite housing thousands over the last three years, Southern California continues to lead the nation in veteran homelessness, with 4,800 living on streets and riverbeds countywide — including 2,700 in the city of Los Angeles, the report said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti had made a pledge to end veteran homelessness a signature of his administration, but scrapped a timetable earlier this year after the numbers continued to climb. The mayor's office referred comment on the report to the homeless services authority and county officials.

The grand jury’s report also expressed concern about Homes for Heroes’ administrative costs.

Officials with the homeless services authority told jurors that portion represented 15% of the total funds, the report said. But “as no contracts have been awarded, we were not able to obtain the actual administrative cost for the contractors.”

According to the report, federal rent vouchers go unused because veterans can’t find a place to use them before they expire. “These voided vouchers go back to the county for reassignment to other homeless veterans waiting for housing,” the report said.

A county spokeswoman disputed this finding, saying that “100%” of its veteran vouchers are being used.

The grand jury also found that many homeless veterans don’t know where to get help.

They may be living on skid row, where they receive assistance from the missions but have trouble getting government aid available at downtown’s Patriotic Hall or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles, the report said.

Another impediment is that much of the housing that accepts veteran rent vouchers is for men only; their family members must find shelter elsewhere, the report said. The grand jury also found that homeless veterans lack storage for their belongings, and that police use ticketing and arrests to remove them from neighborhoods where they are unwanted.

In order to help alleviate the crisis, the report recommended, among other things:

• Considering using the General Hospital building north of downtown, or other vacant structures, to house homeless veterans and their families.

• Expanding county benefits for homeless veterans from one to two years.

• Setting up a county mobile outreach service for veterans at the missions.

• Giving the missions more county homeless funds.

• Establishing county storage facilities for homeless veterans.

• Speeding up the procurement and contracting process.

gholland@latimes.com

Twitter: @geholland

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