Long Beach is on track to join the ranks of US cities that have made sufficient housing available for every veteran in need, Mayor Robert Garcia said Wednesday.
In four years, the number of homeless veterans in the city has been reduced from 309 to 94, as of the biennial survey conducted earlier this year. On average, housing is found for 12-15 a month, according to the city's figures.
The challenge to provide housing for every homeless veteran by the end of 2015 had been issued last year by President Obama.
"We will end veteran homelessness in Long Beach this year," Garcia said.
Garcia cited cooperation with the VA Healthcare Systems, and nonprofit veterans assistance organizations, including the United States Veterans Intiative, known as US Vets. US Vets provides housing to some 550 veterans in the Century Villages at Cabrillo, developed on the former Naval housing site for the Long Beach Shipyard, which closed in 1997.
Over the years, it has provided transitional housing to thousands of veterans while they gain control of the issues that resulted in their homelessness, said Steve Peck, a Marine Corps veteran who serves as president and CEO of US Vets.
"They're in there 90-120 days and most move on to permanent housing in the community," said Peck.
Veterans who consider themselves "graduates" attest to the transformation in their lives.
"It just changed my life at that point," said Navy veteran Wayne Hansen.
After serving in the 1980s, he worked two decades as a truck driver, but found himself in 2010 and went to the VA for help.
"I found myself with US Vets in a transitional housing program, and from there I was just connected to all kinds of resources I didn't realize were available," Hansen said.
Four years later, he's living in an apartment, getting his bachelor's degree from Cal State Fullerton in human services, and preparing to return to the workforce full-time.
"When I walked into the VA hospital, I had no idea there was a place like this," said Stephen Brunner, 34, an Army combat veteran who had grappled with PTSD for eight years, seeking help from the VA only after his marriage fell apart and he lost his home.
After nine months in the Villages at Cabrillo, he has completed a substance abuse program, worked full-time as a painter, and next week will be moving to an apartment and preparing to enter Cypress College.
One of the chief benefits of the US Vets program Brunner sees is the environment and camaraderie with fellow veterans who understand the challenges. Brunner is aware of the initiative to find housing for veterans still living on the street in Long Beach.
It's the nature of veterans to be self-reliant and not ask for help, he said, but he's glad he overcame that barrier and urges others facing challenges to do so.
"By me moving out, I'm opening a bed for another guy," Brunner said.
Marine Corps Veteran Stacie Mello, 44, is another who has been able to recover from "bad choices" that left her without work or a home in 2010. It took three months, but a case worker was able to find her housing, with rent subsidized by a voucher from HUD, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Vouchers are provided through a program known as Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing.
Mello graduated from nursing school, and is awaiting her certification as an LVN, has worked as a peer support for the HUD VASH program in Orange County.
One ongoing challenge is the resistance of some landlords to tenants with rental subsidies.
American Family Housing and other focused organizations welcome tenants recovering from homelessness, but there is still a shortage of affordable housing, or housing that accepts vouchers. New Orleans, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix are among the cities that have announced meeting the goal of making sure housing is available to all of their veterans.
The challenge is greater in Los Angeles, which has the nation's largest population of veterans without housing, as many as 4,000, though the results countywide point in time census will not be announced till next month.
The Home for Good initiative, spearheaded by United Way, reports it is finding housing for 300 veterans a month and will need to increase that to meet the President's goal by the end of the year.