By Toni Reinis and Dora Leong Gallo
Concern for veterans and the way veterans have been treated are high priorities for many in this community and throughout our country. Even with extensive family support, which not everyone has, many veterans face hurdles in integrating back to civilian life after serving our country. Returnees from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars often come home with brain injuries and traumatic stress disorders that make it difficult to resume their former lives.
New Directions was formed in 1992 specifically to assist veterans in integrating back into civilian life. Located on the campus of the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration (VA), New Directions offers case management, job training, substance abuse treatment and recovery services to veterans. Increasingly, veterans have shared with New Directions the difficulty in locating housing in Los Angeles that is affordable.
This is especially true for homeless and disabled veterans, where affordable housing that is not time-limited is virtually nonexistent. Here is where the national focus on permanent supportive housing merges perfectly with the needs of disabled veterans.
Permanent supportive housing is affordable housing operated primarily by nonprofit organizations with on-site supportive services such as case management, independent living skills, job/vocational training, mental health counseling, and substance abuse recovery services. What better place to provide housing for veterans than on VA-owned property where veterans can access existing VA services?
In 2002, the VA recognized such an opportunity on the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in North Hills and began conversations to lease two vacant buildings to New Direction for permanent supportive housing. New Directions teamed up with A Community of Friends (ACOF), a nationally known nonprofit developer of permanent supportive housing for people with special needs, to convert the buildings into 147 studios for veterans.
The long term leases for these two buildings incorporate many issues important to leaders in the San Fernando Valley, including Congressman Brad Sherman and Councilman Greig Smith. Among the issues addressed are appropriate staffing ratios, security measures and a careful crafting of language in the tenant selection/referral process that ensures that this housing will be for veterans while adhering to fair housing requirements. Understanding the importance of maintaining VA land for veterans, the leases also specifically confirm that ownership of the land will remain with the VA.
In the past year, this important project has gained support from many individuals and organizations, including the Los Angeles County Veterans Advisory Commission, the Department of California AMVETS, Jewish War Veterans of the United States, Vietnam Veterans of California, the Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans Association, the Kiwanis Club of Northridge, the North San Fernando Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Northridge/Chatsworth, the United Chambers of Commerce of San Fernando Valley and Region, the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles County Business Federation, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Chrysalis, People in Progress, Penny Lane Centers, the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, the North Hills Community Coordinating Council, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and scores of individual veterans who have served our country.
The reasons cited for support are many, including job creation and environmentally appropriate re-use of underutilized and vacant buildings, but most importantly, the community’s opportunity to help our nation’s heroes assimilate back into civilian life by making affordable housing available with on-site supportive services. Those who put their lives on the line for our country deserve no less.
Toni Reinis is the Executive Director of New Directions, Inc. Dora Leong Gallo is the Chief Executive Officer of A Community of Friends. Web Site: www.NDVets.org