Shad Meshad via
The Huffington Post
someone who has spent 44 years on the streets of Los Angeles working to
help homeless veterans, I hear a lot of talk and see a lot of reports
on homelessness. But the scene we see on the ground has not changed much
from when I started working with homeless vets in the 1970s. If
anything, it is worse than it's ever been.
California drought and the expected El Niño have been in the national
news off and on for months. Things are parched here. But lots of rain,
though welcome, will bring its own set of problems for a city with the
largest homeless population in the country, a very wet winter for people
sleeping on the streets.
homelessness issue stays in the press in all media. The images are
compelling... but they result in more dialogue, not action. Even facing
an El Niño year isn't enough to jolt us into action. What's the matter
with us? What's it going to take?
Let's pose a larger question: What keeps us from acting?
the problem that we don't know what the solutions are for
homelessness? No, we know what they are and we know they work. One of
most important answers is permanent supportive housing for chronically
homeless people with special needs, including people with disabilities,
mental illness, and addiction problems. It has been proven all over the
country to get homeless people off the streets for good. "For veterans
and single individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness, either
on the streets or in a shelter system for a long time, permanent
supportive housing works best," said Jerry Jones, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.
two other big solutions are more transitional housing and more
affordable housing. Affordable housing is a huge scarcity in Los Angeles
and other cities where the cost of living is relatively high. The VA,
for example, has a program called HUD-VASH that
provides housing vouchers for homeless veterans. We at the NVF have
worked with a number of vets, helped them get her VASH vouchers, but
were unable to secure a safe, affordable place that would accept them.
the problem that the solutions are too expensive? That's another "no".
A number of studies, including one in Florida found that it costs 68% less to house and treat homeless individuals than
it does to leave them on the streets, where they end up in a cycle,
passing from emergency rooms, to temporary shelters, to the criminal
justice system, which costs cities many millions of dollars.
I think the problem is that we lack the political commitment and will to solve homelessness.
Angeles, on paper, has pledged a renewed commitment to ending
homelessness. Mayor Garcetti has promised an impressive $100 million to
the effort (the homeless population in LA has increased about 12% since
Garcetti took office in 2013, with a6% increase in homeless veterans), and two months after the announcement only $16 million has been placed in a trust account for the effort. In the meantime, to position the city for increased federal funding, the funding for 60 transitional housing programs has been cut. These programs were making a difference. We have taken a step backwards in order to move forward.
of the Los Angeles plan is about just getting through the winter. With
"about 26,000 people living on LA sidewalks, in cars and storm drains. LA officials approved a campaign to
open public buildings as temporary shelters and allow people to sleep
inside vehicles in designated lots." The key word here is "temporary".
are some positive signs elsewhere in the country. The State of
Virginia and the city of New Orleans claim to have eliminated veteran
homelessness, for example. However, we are not seeing these kinds of
improvements in Los Angeles. Our homeless veteran outreach teams are
seeing more veterans on the street, with encampments just forced by the
city to move from place to place.
Just this month, Mayor Garcetti decided not to declare a state of emergency around
homelessness in Los Angeles, "cutting off for now an avenue designed to
bring swift relief to thousands of people as El Niño storms are
expected to bear down on Southern California beginning in January." I
think this is a mistake. We are in a state of emergency and waiting for
the rains to hit won't help things.
Where are we otherwise? "Officials continue to debate longer-term solutions."
easy to pick on that "continue to debate longer-term solutions." We've
been putting band aids on this issue for a long time. The fact that
only $16 million of the $100 million pledged for the fight has been
allocated so far is concerning. One step forward and two steps back.
We've gained ground housing homeless veterans, but we're far from
addressing the base causes of homelessness. And not just in LA.
can be sure the stories and images from the actuality of a cold, wet
winter will be heart-wrenching. Do you really want to see those images?
Read about the suffering? I don't. It makes me crazy. I've been
watching it for over forty years, since I first came home from Vietnam.
Angeles is home to the largest veteran population in the country. Our
Outreach street team is gearing up for a difficult season. We do what we
can. It's a band aid. Hard to feel totally good about that. If you
know a veteran who needs help, here's our Lifeline for Vets: 888.777.4443