As Homelessness Plagues Los Angeles, Success Comes for Veterans

“There is no doubt in my mind that the dedication of resources from Congress during multiple administrations is at the top of the list in terms of what has been impactful,” said Dr. Keith Harris, who oversees homelessness issues for the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Our budget for this is the highest it has ever been.”

In Los Angeles, the West LA Veterans Collective anchors the effort. Thomas Safran & Associates, a real estate developer, will break ground this summer on what will become a 60-unit apartment complex. Once the redevelopment work is complete, U.S.Vets, a service organization, will step in to promote healthy, independent living.

The master plan marries housing with job training and services addressing mental health, substance abuse and other issues. It also includes elements like a coffee shop, with the goal of creating a sense of community. “We did follow a strategy that at the time was controversial,” Mr. McDonald said. “The idea of ‘Housing First’ is that you create a sort of hierarchy of needs. If you have an addiction, I need to get you in a place to be safe, then work on that.”

Similar relationships between nonprofit lenders and developers are cropping up elsewhere. After the American Legion Post in Hoboken, N.J., was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, the veterans rebuilding it decided to include apartments for homeless veterans.

The first six apartments were built largely with money from the city and county as well as donations, said Mark L. Villamar, the post’s finance officer, who expects that vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be used to fill the next 15.

“I think you are seeing the community as a whole feels it has an obligation to veterans,” he said. “This may be because of the way veterans are treated now as opposed to when I returned from Vietnam. This would not have happened in the ’70s.”

The effect of the lawsuit over the land in west Los Angeles has spread far beyond that campus. A Veterans Affairs site in Menlo Park, Calif., is now home to a 60-unit housing development for veterans, another project where federal vouchers and a partnership with low-income housing-developers have played a central role.

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