In the early 1990s, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Los Angeles polled its inpatients and discovered that twenty-five percent of them had no place to go when they were discharged; essentially, they were walking out of the hospital straight into a life on the street, joining a population of an estimated 24,000 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County.
Among the people shocked by those statistics was Federal Judge Harry Pregerson, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Pregerson felt a special affinity for military veterans; as a Marine First Lieutenant in World War II, he was severely wounded in the Battle of Okinawa.
Pregerson organized a group of prominent private citizens committed to ending the cycle of homelessness. Calling themselves The Genesis Committee, they volunteered their time and talent. The judge also brought in a housing developer, Tim Cantwell of Cantwell-Anderson, to purchase the building that became U.S.VETS first residential facility, Westside Residence Hall in Inglewood, CA. Westside initially housed five veterans; today it houses up to 600.
Expanding to Meet a National Need
In the ensuing years, working again with Cantewell-Anderson (now called Cloudbreak Development) U.S. VETS has opened sites throughout the country. U.S.VETS now operates sites in Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona; Inglewood, Long Beach and Riverside, California; Honolulu and Waianae, Hawaii; St. Louis, Missouri; Las Vegas, Nevada; Houston, Texas; and Washington, D.C.
The sites in Long Beach and Inglewood are the largest housing facilities for homeless veterans in the country. Each site has the capacity to serve more than 550 veterans.
At each of our sites, we operate a Veterans in Progress (VIP) work re-entry program, which has an 80 percent success rate in helping veterans return to the workplace, withmore than 1,000 gaining full-time employment every year.
We also offer special needs programs at most sites, providing services tailored to the specific issues facing certain veteran populations, such as single mothers with children, non-custodial fathers, the chronically mentally ill, and troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
All of our programs are the result of collaborative efforts with community providers, VA Medical Centers and local government agencies. Funding for these programs provides permanent and long-term transitional housing, residential employment services, case management, substance abuse treatment and outreach to homeless veterans.
To date, we have served more than forty thousand homeless veterans. We are proud that 65 percent of veterans who receive services from U.S. VETS successfully transition to permanent housing, and thereby achieve self-sufficiency.