ENOUGH BLAME TO GO AROUND......
October 8, 2012
Homeless Veterans: Whose Responsibility?
Veterans and their advocates in southern California, the epicenter of veterans’ homelessness, are angry that President Obama and the Veterans Affairs Department have not built a single bed for homeless disabled veterans on the 400 acres the government owns in West Los Angeles, property that was deeded to the federal government for that very purpose in 1888.
They are right that Mr. Obama and the Veterans Affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, have nothing to show for their promises to tackle the problem. But then neither did presidents named Reagan, Bush and Clinton, nor the long string of Veterans Affairs secretaries who served under them.
The campus has a hospital and outpatient services, but no long-term supportive housing for the desperately ill men and women who live and die on the streets, abandoned by the government they served. The circle of blame is wider than the executive branch.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the veterans department of dereliction of duty. Some of the department’s defenders, however, see things differently. Jim Nicholson, the department’s secretary under George W. Bush, is pointing a finger at Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat of California, in whose district the campus lies. Mr. Nicholson said last week, “Waxman’s been a congressman there for nearly 40 years” but has done nothing about the problem.
Mr. Waxman says he helped win $20 million to renovate a building on the site as homeless housing. He says he pushed to improve health services there and fought to prevent parts of it from being sold to private developers. Commercial interests still use it anyway, through lease deals for uses like rental-car lots and hotel laundries.
Unlike Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Waxman is in a position in Washington to prod the Veterans Affairs Department to swifter action. While there are plans for a renovated building, no construction contract has been awarded yet. Some advocates, citing the desperate need, want the department to open a tent city there; it’s not an ideal solution but a quick one, and better than tents under a highway overpass. The latest government estimate says the building will be dedicated in August 2014. At this rate, the country will be well on its way out of Afghanistan before it will have built a single housing unit for homeless veterans in Los Angeles. The building, by the way, will have 65 beds. Tonight, an estimated 8,000 veterans will be sleeping on the streets of the city.