As cities across the country rush to house all homeless veterans by the end of this year to meet a goal set by the Obama administration, officials in Los Angeles said veterans who have a less-than-honorable discharge from the military have fallen through the cracks.
Carlos VanNatter, director of the Section 8 program at the Housing Authority of Los Angeles, said they don't typically qualify for federal funds dedicated to ending veteran homelessness - and that's a big problem.
"We will never get to housing all homeless veterans within the city unless we work through and with this segment of the population," he said. There are about 6,000 homeless veterans in Los Angeles.
To help, the City of Los Angeles is setting aside 500 of its own Section 8 vouchers - meant to subsidize housing for the general low-income population - for these veterans. Officials have recently begun taking applications from veterans who didn't receive honorable discharges for those slots.
It's a particularly big deal because Section 8 vouchers are hard to get in L.A. The city has a wait list of 8,000 people. In L.A. county, 43,000 applicants are waiting.
The city's set-aside plan has attracted the attention of the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development, which is asking Congress to fund similar programs in other cities across the country in the coming fiscal year.
Gregory Scott, president of New Directions, a service provider for formerly homeless veterans that runs four properties, said 500 vouchers may not be enough. Veterans with a less-than-honorable discharge are often ignored, but people may be misconstruing what happened.
"We had a female veteran who ... was in the Air Force and the reason she got out is because she was raped by an officer," he said. Because she left the service before her time was up, he said she didn't get an honorable discharge and is ineligible for most federal benefits for vets.
"Other veterans may have had a fight while in the service, or a drug or alcohol problem," he said. "But they served."
Housing, he said, is the first step for a lot of these veterans before they can deal with their substance abuse and mental health problems.