You can often hear West L.A. residents, and those on the nearby Santa Monica border, whining about the rampant homeless-veteran population in their area (which is trying desperately to gentrify — to polish itself into the next Brentwood or Beverly Hills). They complain about ranting, raving vets who drift onto their sidewalks after visiting the West L.A. veterans' hospital, one of a scarce few facilities dedicated to their rehabilitation on a 387-acre parcel donated to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs some 130 years ago, to be used for housing Civil War heroes and beyond.
But a class-action ACLU lawsuit, filed today in U.S. district court, points out that the majority of the parcel…
… is now built up with businesses and recreational facilities of no direct service to vets.
Developers have been drooling over the slab of prime real estate for years: For a long time, it was just a patch of rolling fields with a VA hospital in the middle. And that kind of pleasantry won't last in Los Angeles, where (not-so) elegant density is the destiny of every remaining open space. (You're next, Playa Vista.)
Though the Department of Veterans Affairs has always defended these leases by saying rent money is going toward the war-hero cause, the Los Angeles Times reports that the ACLU, skeptical as ever, is now demanding proof — in addition to a promise for more veteran housing and treatment options.
VA renters include Enterprise Rent-a-Car, a couple entertainment companies, a private school and a baseball diamond used by the UCLA Bruins:
“Nobody knows how the deals were negotiated, where the money has gone,” Rosenbaum tells the Times.
However, Rachel Feldstein, associate director of New Directions, a service center on the VA campus with 206 temporary sleep spots for veterans, says the facility “currently has open beds.” (She says the center gets about half its money from the Department of Veteran Affairs; the rest is donations.) A Salvation Army “Haven” also on the campus offers more “emergency” beds and temporary rehab programs.
But nearby residents can attest: A more permanent solution is needed. About 8,000 homeless vets roam the streets of Los Angeles — more than any other city in the nation. And each, argues the ACLU, has a particular set of war-grown issues that deserve individual attention.
Still, their rehabilitation is a nuanced struggle, argues the Times:
The VA has taken some steps to improve the plight of homeless veterans. A year ago, it committed $20 million to convert a little-used building on the campus into therapeutic housing, but the project is not completed. “We have acres and acres available,” said Ronald L. Olson, an attorney working pro bono on the case. “We need to supply the kind of supportive housing that will allow them to get care.”
The lawsuit asks us to remember that these men and women are homeless because they're mentally and physically scrambled. And that's a direct consequence of the service they did for our country — a nasty mission of nightmarish killing fields and questionable politics.