US senators propose legislation to move homeless veterans to West Los Angeles VA campus

WEST LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- After Al Gunn's lower right leg was blown off by a land mine in Vietnam in 1972, he turned to substance abuse and homelessness shortly followed.

But, he's now getting transitional help at the Department of Veterans Affairs' campus in West Los Angeles. Yet, like 6,000 other veterans in Los Angeles County what he really needs is permanent, affordable housing.

"There's an awful lot of empty buildings around here that could be rehabbed," Gunn said.

On Thursday, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, in conjunction with Rep. Ted Lieu, called for legislation that would facilitate homeless veterans on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus. It would allow nonprofits to enter long-term leases for housing on the sprawling campus.

Hillary Evans, director of housing services for New Directions for Vets, is already operating at the location with temporary housing for 400 vets, but the hope is to expand.

"There's a lot of unused space that could be a real safe haven and restorative place for veterans that are experiencing homelessness and have been on the streets for years," she said.

The VA has already approved the repurposing of the 387-acre grounds. A new facility opened just months ago, and a master plan for expansion is now underway after the VA was sued for allegedly misusing the land.

The urgency to convert the property is further pushed by the White House's goal to end homelessness for veterans by the end of the year.

There are an estimated 4,360 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County, according to a count released earlier this year. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in January that the city has about 3,100 homeless veterans.

On Thursday, Garcetti said Los Angeles is doing its part.

"Just already we have housed more than 4,000 homeless vets in less than a year and a half since accepting that pledge," Garcetti said.

The need is growing as veterans, like Gunn, get older. Finding a place to live is more challenging than ever for the 65-year old.

He hopes that the campus becomes what homeless advocates envision: a potential hub for veteran housing and services, a rare place in L.A. where there is space to grow.
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