by Steve Peck and Bob Pratt
This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Daily News on November 11, 2013.
On Veterans Day, as we honor the men and women who sacrificed for our country, we are reminded of the vast number of veterans who are homeless in California. As veterans, we know firsthand the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life and the challenges veterans face when they return home.
After experiencing our own challenges returning to civilian life after military service, we now serve other veterans, one of us through U.S.VETS , the other with Volunteers of America. Working to end homelessness among veterans in Southern California and elsewhere, we know that finding a decent place to live on today’s wages, with today’s housing prices, is not easy. In fact, half of all veterans earning low wages cannot afford their rent, putting them at risk of homelessness. These veterans, and the more than 16,000 veterans who experience homelessness on any given night in California, need affordable, stable places to rent.
Gov. Jerry Brown recently approved a bill that would provide more affordable rental options for veterans, should voters approve it as a ballot measure in June. Assembly Bill 639, by Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, will allow California voters to reallocate $600 million of unused veterans bonds, originally for homeownership, to build more apartments affordable to veterans and their families.
If approved by voters, AB 639 will make a difference for thousands of veterans. But it is one part of the solution. It will not end homelessness for veterans currently experiencing it alone, let alone prevent homelessness for the thousands of veterans at risk of homelessness.
Another important bill — Senate Bill 391, the California Homes and Jobs Act, by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek — will create more affordable homes and apartments for veterans and their families, while also providing much-needed supportive services that some veterans need to remain stably housed.
Approved by the Senate, the California Homes and Jobs Act is now pending in the Assembly. This critical legislation would generate about $500 million every year in state investment, which would leverage an additional $2.85 billion in private and federal capital. Combined with AB 639 bond dollars and other funding sources, SB 391 will bring more of California’s veterans “home” for good.
State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, chair of the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee, has said, “We must continue to fight for those who have fought for us.” Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, has said, “Returning veterans are having a difficult time readjusting to life and it is our responsibility to help them in their transition.”
We now ask Assemblymembers Muratsuchi and Brown to honor veterans this Veterans Day by supporting SB 391, so our community’s returning military members and their families can have safe, stable, affordable places to call home.
Steve Peck is president of U.S.VETS. Bob Pratt is president of Volunteers of America, Greater Los Angeles.