homelessness

Nonprofit ‘Village For Vets' Helps Hungry, Homeless Veterans Living in Tents

The group fills in the gap in food service, something the VA can't legally offer to anyone not living in one of their housing facilities.

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If it takes a village to help local homeless veterans, that village has definitely stepped forward. A tent city of sorts has been set up on the campus of the Veteran's Administration in West Los Angeles, and it is getting a boost from a nonprofit. 

Forty-one homeless veterans live in their tents in two parking lots on the VA campus. This new program is part of the VA's care treatment and rehabilitation services are a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

"I see hope, faith and a chance to continue with my life,” Eddie Chapman, a U.S. Army veteran currently experiencing homelessness, said.

Chapman is a 60-year-old veteran of the Gulf War, and he has been homeless ever since he was discharged in 1992. 

"It's really an opportunity. They’re doing more things than I've ever seen for the homeless," Chapman said.

He opted for a tent over a shelter because he's worried about the coronavirus, but Chapman says he feels lucky to be homeless right now because there's so much more help to be found.

"The VA can't do everything," Marcie Polier Swartz, founder of Village for Vets, said.

And that's where her organization comes in. Swartz founded the nonprofit Village for Vets four years ago. Now, the group fills in the gap in food service, something the VA can't legally offer to anyone not living in one of their housing facilities.

"People have a misconception that because it's a big government agency with huge funding that they should be able to do this. Well ‘should’ is a terrible word. I'm hoping all of LA will come forward to help us support veterans in need,” Swartz said. 

The group works entirely off of donations. Cedars-Sinai, the Annenberg Foundation and LA Supervisor Sheila Kuhl are among those who have helped get the program rolling for these veterans still waiting for more permanent housing.

"Any of these veterans today could go into our transitional housing... they’ve chosen not to,” Matthew McGahran, a VA social worker, said. 

The VA says the goal is to keep this program running, even after COVID-19, because they've been able to help so many veterans already find housing.

"When they're ready, we do have concrete buildings they can go into. We have the domiciliary, we have the bridge home, shelter housing,” McGahran said.

And while it might seem like the veterans are lacking in the support they deserve for the sacrifices they made, the VA says allowing them to stay in their tents gives them the freedom to accept the help they can get.

"It might not be what you or I would choose, but it's what they choose, and we have to respect that,” Bridget Kleinert, VA program manager, said. 

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