Los Angeles might be the largest urban area in the richest country of the world. But you wouldn't know that if you were standing in downtown L.A.'s Skid Row, seeing the sidewalks crowded with homeless, many of them veterans, many more of them mentally ill, on crutches, or in wheelchairs.
Our National Veterans Foundation outreach van is well-known on these streets. We've been coming here to serve homeless veterans for years. I've written here before about the mobility of our homeless veterans, how they are moved from pillar to post, cleared out from vacant lots, under bridges, pop-up tent communities tucked into folds of the urban landscape like Skid Row.
Steve Lopez, reporting for The Los Angeles Times, has written about this before, too. His recent piece on March 3, talks about his return trip to Skid Row nearly ten years after his story about finding musician Nathaniel Ayers whose was the basis for the motion picture “The Soloist.” Lopez is the kind of journalist who's not afraid to get out there, to tell the unpopular truths. He's long been a friend of the NVF.
Steve reports that not a lot has changed in those ten years. While programs in greater Los Angeles have housed thousands, the economic downturn all but obliterated those gains. The inexorable gentrification of the city puts pressure on the few areas where the homeless gather. In Lopez's words: Demand outpaces supply.
Funding for projects is difficult to obtain in spite of the facts, like L.A. mayors Villaraigosa and Garcetti have made this a priority. On January 29, Secretary of the VA Robert McDonald visited Skid Row at night in the company of community activists, including NVF Director of Women's Outreach Kristine Hesse. That's a recent look by a dignitary.
Lack of funding is a solid reason, but it doesn't let us off the hook, especially where our veterans are concerned. We made a promise to them in exchange for their service. Leaving them on the streets, their mental health issues untreated, physical needs unmet, results in higher costs for emergency room visits, court appearances and jail time. Doesn't this sound ridiculously short-sighted to you? Especially coming from a culture where the "bottom line” is the measurement of success?
You know how you use preventive maintenance to forestall more costly repairs on your car? Shouldn't we be doing at least that much for our homeless citizens, and our veterans in particular? You know your city. Get involved locally. Get your employer involved. Speak to the corporations in your area. Back the efforts of local government and community-based organizations to change what Dan Angress in a letter to the editor on March 7, calls "a multi-generational political process unable to get results.”
We need results and our homeless population needs them now.
If you know a vet who needs help, pass along our number: 888.777.4443.