Downtown LA Veterans Center Aimed At Tackling Homeless Plight

CBS 2 News, Los Angeles - November 13, 2014

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — More than 4,600 military veterans currently live on the streets of Los Angeles, according to a new survey.

Blas Villalobos of the group U.S.VETS is among many local veterans advocates who are working to boost public awareness of the problem in Los Angeles, Inglewood, Long Beach and cities across the region.

In partnership with the County of Los Angeles, U.S.VETS on Monday opened a one-stop service center for veterans at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles – the first of its kind in the nation.

Patriotic Hall will provide services ranging from employment assistance and financial literacy to legal advocacy and mental health treatment for veterans, according to officials.

Villalobos, who is a former Marine, has worked closely with Mayor Eric Garcetti himself on programs to help homeless vets and told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that much more needs to be done.

“We have a number of different nonprofits working together, which is in some cases unprecedented, trying to tackle this issue,” said Villalobos. “The mayor has been very helpful in establishing new relationships between all these different nonprofits.”

Nearly 20 miles east, in El Monte, dozens of formerly homeless veterans were celebrating new beginnings Tuesday, after 40 veterans were given permanent residency in a group of brand new studio apartments earlier this year.

CBS2/KCAL9 visited the El Monte Veterans Village in March during the facility’s grand opening.

On Tuesday, its residents celebrated with song.

“I wake up in the morning and say, ‘I have a bathroom. I have a shower. A bathtub. A kitchen – somewhere I can really get up and make breakfast – bacon and eggs – which I have not done in 15 or 16 years,” veteran James Jacobs said.

Former Army Infantryman Randy Ruiz invited his family to his apartment.

“It just gives you a feeling of, hey I belong here! It gives you a sense of respect again, to climb back on the wagon of life,” Ruiz said.

Although Jacobs, Ruiz and others are no longer homeless, many others have taken their places – a sad fact Mercy Housing Director Tonja Boykin hopes to change.

“Most of the gentlemen and ladies were sleeping in cars, they were sleeping under freeway passes, they hadn’t had a home in many years,” Boykin said.

“Homelessness and veteran. Those two words shouldn’t go together. And when you see folks coming together to have a celebration in a home in their neighborhood and being supported by their colleagues and their peers, it’s just magical. It’s amazing.”