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VA seeks landlords in OC, Long Beach to help end Veteran homelessness

The hallways at the El Monte Veterans Village housing complex, which has 40 units and is about a year old. Residents are veterans only and come from a history of chronic homelessness.
The hallways at the El Monte Veterans Village housing complex, which has 40 units and is about a year old. Residents are veterans only and come from a history of chronic homelessness.
Susanica Tam for KPCC

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As officials across the country scramble to meet the Obama Administration’s mandate to house all homeless vets by the end of the year, it’s getting harder to find willing landlords, according to Department of Veterans Affairs officials in Long Beach.

Part of the problem is that the vets left to help are the chronically homeless, who have spent years on the street. Many have mental health issues, substance abuse problems, or a combination of the two – and that makes landlords queasy.

“I think a lot of it is a lack of knowledge,” said Mechel Stanley, a former mental health care nurse who runs the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program at the VA hospital in Long Beach.

She said a program created by Congress in 2008 assigns social workers to veterans who receive housing vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those case managers, who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, schedule doctors appointments, find them jobs, and help manage their finances.

“I’m constantly speaking and doing events every week," Stanley said. "But even with all that, people are saying ‘I’ve never heard about this.’ ”  

Nearly a thousand vets in Orange County and Long Beach have found permanent homes through the program since 2009 - 10,000 nationwide - but Stanely said she's still got 200 additional vouchers to hand out before the end of the year.

The VA invited O.C. and Long Beach landlords to an event last weekend to try to convince them to participate.

Her pitch: “We’re not asking you to dedicate your entire apartment building," Stanley said. "But give us one or two units that we can house veterans in.”