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June 15, 2015

Can Los Angeles end veteran homelessness?


Lendell Seay served in the army for over 21 years. But six years after his retirement, he found himself living on the streets of Los Angeles.

Helping veterans like Seay find a home is the focus of a new program designed to end veteran homelessness in L.A. There are approximately 45,000 homeless people in the city, 4,000 of whom are veterans.

The program’s model is based on “permanent supportive housing,” providing shelter and social services indefinitely for veterans to help them get back on their feet. Veterans pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, with the remaining balance filled by federal funds. The federal government has awarded 80,000 rent vouchers for veterans this year. The program also gives vets access to mental health resources, substance abuse treatment and a case manager.

Research showed a high success rate for the model, with 90 percent of chronically homeless people staying housed after five years.

Providing permanent supportive housing is a cost-effective solution to help homelessness, according to Christine Margiotta, head of Home for Good for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. Housing costs for the homeless are actually 40 percent cheaper for the city than alternative costs such as the emergency room, where many homeless people seek medical care, Margiotta said.

But the program does not reach everyone. Some homeless vets face mental health or substance abuse challenges that make it difficult for them to accept services, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Some will take more time, but I’m confident we can make sure that each one of them has a pathway off our streets,” he said.

Warm up questions
  1. What personal and economic factors contribute to homelessness?
  2. What services does the government provide to people who are homeless?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why is Los Angeles so determined to address homelessness?
  2. Why are a significant number of veterans at risk of becoming homeless?
  3. Why is there concern that simply providing housing to those who need it may not be enough?
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