IN THE NEWS: Three reasons to support veterans housing project

This story originally appeared in The Press-Enterprise on August 25, 2017.

by Dora Leong Gallo & Eddie Estrada

Looking at the County of San Bernardino’s Point in Time Homeless Count numbers, veterans comprised 8.2 percent of those who were homeless in the county in 2016, but that percentage increased to 9.6 percent in 2017. Although the increase was slight, it was moving in the wrong direction.

We knew the numbers were not trending the right direction when my nonprofit organization purchased the five-acre parcel on the southwest corner of Texas Street and Lugonia Avenue in the city of Redlands nearly two years ago. At the time, we were also cognizant of the rich tradition city and community leaders had in supporting our veterans.

The VA Loma Linda Healthcare System was a few miles away, and in fact opened an Ambulatory Care Center on Redlands Boulevard even closer to our property just last October. There were active AMVets and American Legion Posts in the community, and the service clubs in the community included many veterans.

As an experienced affordable housing developer with a mission to provide housing opportunities to people in need, serving veterans at this location became an obvious choice. We looked to see who shared our mission, and partnered with United States Veterans Initiative (U.S. VETS), a national nonprofit social service agency that serves only veterans. Together, along with a third nonprofit partner — Western Community Housing — we created Liberty Lane, an 80-unit development that will provide more than 50 apartments for veterans experiencing homelessness and who have a disability, with the remainder for people in low-income families, including some referred by the San Bernardino Department of Behavioral Health.

Why support the Liberty Lane project?

One, because it will serve veterans. As everyone agrees, the words “homeless” and “veteran” should never be used in the same sentence.

Two, the project will have a high level of staffing — two property managers who will live onsite and three full-time and one part-time case managers provided by U.S.VETS and the Loma Linda VA. The county will also provide a behavioral health team for the project, including 24/7 access.

Three, the location is on a site listed as suitable for affordable housing development by the city of Redlands in its Housing Element, meaning that it has already been vetted by the city and is near amenities that all of us, no matter what our circumstances, would want to live close to. Add to this ideal location is that there is a bus stop located at the corner of the property, and veteran-friendly employers, such as Home Depot, a few blocks away.

All these factors, the veterans to be served, the location, the services offered and the beautiful design of the project (which was approved by the Redlands Planning Commission on a unanimous vote) has resulted in the successful award of funds from all levels of government — federal, state and county.

The time is now. The experience of U.S.VETS, with offices and programs in the Inland Empire, is that veterans are experiencing homelessness much faster than shown by the homeless count, which only measures homelessness on a single day.

Redlands city staff recently completed additional due diligence regarding the proposed location due to community feedback and came to the same conclusion as before — that any potential impacts of the project can be mitigated by putting additional requirements on the development.

In May and November of each year, many of us attend ceremonies to honor and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Veterans risk everything to fight for us. We need to fight for them too.

For those veterans who need our help, Liberty Lane will provide that help. We have the obligation, and the incredible opportunity, to help veterans find a place to call home. We hope you will join us in that effort.