L.A. leaders vow to end homelessness among veterans this year

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald applauds at the VA's West Los Angeles health campus after announcing his efforts to end homelessness among veterans in the county.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Declaring they had turned a corner in the fight against homelessness, city leaders on Thursday vowed that by the end of the year there would be no more veterans living on the streets of Los Angeles.

Speaking in a former downtown flophouse, officials said new federal resources and an end to city-county feuding had transformed their efforts.

“Four years ago, federal authorities told us L.A. is dysfunctional, we’re not going to invest in you,” said Elise Buik, president of United Way, whose private-public homelessness collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce is called Home for Good.


But, she said, “it’s a new day.”

According to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, $13 million awarded to the city last week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- along with housing vouchers -- would be used to create 1,300 homes with counseling, drug treatment and other services attached.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald told the gathering that a legal settlement Wednesday -- which will transform the VA’s largely empty 387-acre West Los Angeles property into permanent housing for veterans -- will go a long way toward solving the homeless crisis.

“The lawsuit stood in the way of us getting done what we need to get done here in Los Angeles,” McDonald said.

The effort also will benefit, officials said, from city-county agreement on proven tactics such as “housing first,” which requires finding people homes instead of insisting that they first treat their mental illnesses or addictions.

A new computerized system that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and matches them to appropriate housing and services, Buik said, is putting an end to long waiting lists.

In perhaps the most striking sign of a new era, McDonald and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro are in town for Thursday evening’s skid row count -- part of Los Angeles County’s biennial homeless census. The two Cabinet members will walk the streets with volunteers.


Several longtime advocates said the change in the long fight to house the region’s 38,000 homeless people, the most in the nation, is real, not rhetoric.

“We had a bunch of one-man bands,” said Mike Alvidrez, executive director of Skid Row Housing Trust. “Everybody knows the sheet music, and now we’re beginning to be an orchestra.”

Also present at the event were L.A. County Supervisors Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas; Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben; Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Commissioner Michael Neely; and philanthropist Steve Hilton, among others.