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VA Releases Action Plan to End Homelessness Among LA’s Veterans

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

February 18, 2015 -- A lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of Los Angeles’ homeless veterans was officially dismissed in court Tuesday after federal officials presented a far-reaching action plan aimed at ensuring that “every veteran who has fought for America has a home.”

Released Friday, the “Veterans Homeless Strategic Action Plan” sets the immediate goal of housing 650 homeless veterans in Los Angeles by April.

It also lays the foundation for how officials will turn portions of the 388-acre West Los Angeles Medical Center campus into “permanent supportive housing” as well as emergency housing for “chronically homeless, severely disabled, women and aging veterans.”

The action plan also meets the first major benchmark of a settlement agreement to end a civil lawsuit filed against the VA by the ACLU and other attorneys on behalf of the county’s estimated 9,000 homeless veterans, said David Sapp, an  attorney with the ACLU Foundation.

ACLU attorneys and a legal team of experts sued the VA in 2011 for failing to provide adequate housing and mental health services for the county's homeless veterans. The City of Santa Monica joined in the class-action suit that same year.

Last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald announced the two sides had reached a settlement agreement that was contingent on VA officials submitting by no later than February 13 a written plan for accomplishing the lawsuit’s goals.

“As part of this plan, VA is committed to utilizing the West Los Angeles Medical Center campus to serve the needs of veterans in a more Veteran-centric manner going forward,” the action plan said.

It sets both short- and long-range goals for accelerating housing placements for homeless veterans on and off the West L.A. campus, and for securing additional financial resources. The plan also addresses how the VA will tackle medical and mental health needs of veterans once they’re placed in housing.

In a joint statement, attorneys from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Public Counsel, and Inner City Law Center called the plan “a significant step forward toward meeting the immediate settlement obligations,” but acknowledged that “more will be needed to meet the objective of ending veteran homelessness in LA in 2015.”

Sapp said he’s confident that McDonald is “personally committed” to making the plan work.

“A dismissal of the lawsuit was entered in court this morning,” said Sapp. “We will continue to work on behalf of the plaintiffs to ensure that this plan is acceptable to them, and that the very specific timeline included in the plan is met.”

Several goals in the plan are expected to be met within the next 100 days, including working with the United Way’s Home for Good homeless initiative “to house 650 homeless veterans during the month of April 2015.”

The plan also calls for increasing funding the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families, a crises intervention program that includes a safety net for newly homeless veterans and their families.

“If a veteran falls into homelessness, time-limited services are provided to assist in quickly reconnecting to housing and other services needed to end the crisis and promote stable living in permanent housing,” the plan said.

Specifically, the program provides housing vouchers, rental assistance, help for housing relocation, credit counseling, help with security or utility deposits, child care and other services.

Los Angeles is targeted to receive grant funding for the program in late March or early April. The grant amount is expected to be announced in the next 60 days, according to the action plan.

Sapp said the goal of providing immediate emergency “bridge” housing for homeless vets is an important component of the plan.

“That’s been the missing component,” he said. “For a long time there hasn’t been any place where homeless veterans can just go after they’ve been released from the hospital and until they can find permanent housing.”

To help veterans who find housing away from the VA’s Westwood campus, “supported housing teams” of social workers, psychiatrists, nurses, addiction specialists and other professionals will provide “essential” on-site services, the plan said.

The VA also will expand the Homeless Patient Aligned Care Team to “meet the medical needs” of chronically homeless veterans. And the department will convene monthly town hall meetings with federal, state and local officials “to provide information and feedback regarding progress related to ending veteran homelessness in Greater Los Angeles.”

Under its long-range goals, the plan calls for hiring an urban planning firm to help the VA develop a new master plan for the West LA campus, including emergency and permanent housing.

Last month, McDonald said the goal was to have the urban planner hired by October.

“We look forward to participating in the next step of the process as the VA retains an urban planning firm and develops a comprehensive master land use plan for the West LA campus, focusing on permanent supportive housing and bridge housing for homeless veterans, women veterans, veterans with disabilities, and aging veterans,” said the joint statement from the ACLU and other attorneys.

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