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VA commits $20 million to convert West L.A. building into homeless facility

June 28, 2010 |  2:06 pm

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has approved $20 million in funding to convert an unused building at the West Los Angeles VA campus into therapeutic housing for chronically homeless veterans -- a plan that has been years in the making.

The action was jointly announced Monday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Yaroslavsky said the commitment marked a milestone that "has been a long time coming."

He credited Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver with suggesting in 2004 that three unused or underused buildings on the campus be converted to help ease the county's homeless veteran problem. Los Angeles County has nearly 6,540 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets each night, according to the statement from Feinstein, Waxman and Yaroslavsky.

Shriver and others grew frustrated as the VA engaged in a long, drawn-out process of securing funding to convert the buildings, coupled with what seemed to be little enthusiasm for the idea. Nudging from Feinstein, Waxman and Yaroslavsky helped pushed the project forward.

At a June 16 meeting in Washington, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki committed $20 million in funding to renovate and rehabilitate Building 209. Of that amount, half would go toward seismic work, with the rest of the funds being used to convert the building into living quarters and facilities for social services.

Yaroslavsky said the aim was to eventually secure additional funding to convert two other buildings. He projected that 70 to 90 chronically homeless veterans could eventually be housed in each of the buildings.

"We finally got to first base," Shriver said. "But I want to get to second, third and home base asap."

The program would offer housing with medical care, mental health treatment and other services to those deemed most vulnerable.

-- Martha Groves