April 22, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Opinion: West Los Angeles Needs to Care about Veteran Homelessness

By Kelly Kravchuk 

Veteran homelessness is a public health concern that impacts my West Los Angeles community. As a USC Masters in Social Work candidate, I have been working with people who struggle to secure housing. Braving the weather conditions compromises their immune systems, which results in increased risk for infectious diseases, such as the 2018 Hepatitis A outbreak that spread through California. 

Many unhoused individuals are survivors of abuse and trauma and are grappling with mental health challenges. The psychological and emotional issues they endure oftentimes lead them to self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs, which increases substance use issues. People who have faced chronic mistreatment naturally tend to inflict pain onto others, oftentimes unknowingly. 

I was walking on San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood one morning, and an unhoused individual was pacing back and forth in front of me. I recognized her because I had seen her visit shops in the area before. I stepped aside to give her space because I was not sure where she was going next, and she began screaming at me and spat at me. She said, “Why did you move away from me? I served this country, and this is what I get in return!?” 

One of my well-off neighbors is a veteran, while other veterans in the area lack stable housing. There is a correlation between high rates of homelessness and high rates of crime. Subsequently, local residents experience uncertainty and fear, and this untrusting outlook is unhealthy for the neighborhood as a whole. Social barriers are reinforced as stigma is perpetuated. 

The Los Angeles Homelessness Authority reported 46,260 sheltered and unsheltered members of the city’s homeless population in January 2023. Furthermore, homelessness in Los Angeles increased by 10% between 2022 and 2023. This can be attributed to the lack of affordable housing, increases in rent costs as well as the expiration of COVID relief programs, such as policies that protected tenants and reduced eviction rates. This had led fewer people to enter homelessness prior to the expiration of the programs. 

Unhoused veterans who receive disability benefits slip through the cracks because they are disqualified from the housing program due to their disability-related income. During the Brentwood Homeowner Association’s annual meeting on March 18th, 2024, Karen Bass emphasized that there are homeless veterans who have to choose between receiving disability income and receiving housing. 

This is a missed opportunity to secure housing for these individuals. A 2017 study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that the implementation of a program in LA County that secures long-term housing for unhoused participants led to a 60% reduction in the costs of public services utilized. Furthermore, even after taking into account the costs of permanent housing, the county had saved 20% of their spendings.

There are housing programs that exist, but the waitlist for many is six months. Could you imagine being out on the streets during the winter months while it pours rain? U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) offers permanent housing to individuals in need who qualify, but its long waitlist leaves individuals unhoused. 

To make matters worse, sometimes the waitlist can be so overburdened due to lack of housing that this results in the closure of the waitlist. People who risk their lives fighting for our country deserve better than to return to the United States and struggle to secure a basic need such as housing. 

There is an opportunity to rectify this issue by legislating to make housing a human right and advocating for policies that support this. Countries such as Scotland, France, South Africa, and others have integrated a right to housing in their constitution and legislation, and in the case of Scotland, homelessness is rare and not recurring. 

The West LA Veterans Administration Medical Center infrastructure is in the process of becoming a robust community that offers basic needs, medical services, protection, and care to veterans. Let us make sure that unnecessary barriers do not stand in the way of making sure every veteran gets the essential protection they deserve after putting their bodies, minds, and souls at risk to protect our nation.

in NEWS
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