New vouchers on the way for homeless vets in LA, but are they enough?

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Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Veterans for years have protested outside the gates of the Veterans Administration campus in West Los Angeles. A newly filed ACLU lawsuit accuses the VA of failing to provide adequate services to homeless veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday that it’s providing more than 400 housing vouchers for homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area – far too few, critics countered, to cover the need.

“This initiative will strengthen our ongoing efforts to eliminate Veteran homelessness by 2015,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said.

However, advocates for homeless veterans in Los Angeles were disappointed by the number of vouchers.

"This is basically a drop in the bucket," University of California Los Angeles Law Professor Gary Blasi said.

By the V.A.'s own count, more than 8,000 veterans live on the streets of Southern California.

Blasi is co-counsel on a lawsuit that seeks to force the federal government to provide permanent housing and support services to homeless veterans at the sprawling West L.A. Veterans Administration campus - especially to those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Blasi acknowledged the pledge from Secretary Shinseki to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

“It was very good to hear that pledge when it was made," he said. "Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a lot of action that would indicate we have a path forward to actually achieving that result.”

Shinseki – a retired U.S. Army general – said his agency continues to “make good progress to reduce veteran homelessness, though much work remains.”

The V.A. said its providing more than $5 million in funding for housing vouchers. It comes from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH). Under the program, homeless veterans are referred to local public housing agencies for “Housing Choice” Section 8 vouchers to assist with rent payment.

Blasi said veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan need more support than just rent subsidies because many suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

"So it doesn’t really reach the people that are most disabled," Blasi said.

The V.A. said in its statement that it provides a variety of programs to eligible homeless veterans,
including case management and services to support recovery from physical and mental health problems, and substance use.

"The V.A. is committed to providing Veterans and their families with access to affordable housing and medical services that will help them get back on their feet," Secretary Shinseki said.

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