On the heels of Veterans Day, there is still much to be addressed and resolved for our veterans, not only across the country but right here in Ventura County. Getting a truly accurate picture of the needs of veterans locally remains a bit elusive, but a glance at what we do know reveals much. While the need for proper and efficient health care remains prevalent, which continues to make headlines even after it was revealed that the waiting lists for such services can be longer than a month for thousands, and that the number is now 50 percent higher than last year, perhaps a focused look at housing needs might be more easily addressed. After all, many veterans who are on the streets suffer much from exposure to the elements. Eliminating that exposure will surely help.
For the 2015 homeless count, of the 957 total unsheltered individuals, 87 were veterans, mainly Vietnam vets but outreach providers are also seeing increasily more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Of the 87, 50 people or 57 percent of those individuals were chronically homeless. Further, 78 were men; nine were women. Thirty-seven had a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart trouble, high blood pressure, seizures, hepatitis, respiratory problems, epilepsy, tuberculosis or arthritis; 35 had a physical disability; 24 had a problem with drugs or alcohol. Sixteen had been victims of domestic or intimate-partner violence. Twelve were older than 62. Twenty-three were released from a correctional institution such as a jail or prison after serving a court-ordered sentence during the past 12 months. The survey didn’t clearly indicate whether or not the demographics and ailments of those who fell into certain categories overlapped.
When it comes to Ventura County, there are simply not enough beds or permanent housing facilities for homeless veterans. Though 87 veterans registered on the homeless survey, social service providers all agree that there continues to be a high demand for housing, beyond just what seems to be a relatively small number, less than 10 percent of the total homeless population. What remains to be counted are those who are often called couch surfers, those without a permanent home. But there is some hope. In Ventura, the City Council is confronting the situation head-on.
The Ventura City Council last week voted 6-1, with Councilman Mike Tracy in opposition, to try and negotiate with the Department of Veterans Affairs to reacquire a 10-acre parcel in East Ventura to build veteran housing. The city had donated the land to the department some years ago, but department officials said it would not be able to build anything until 2020, a date that is too far in the future to do any good for the situation at hand. Also, there are currently Prop. 41 funds that would help finance the construction of veteran housing. The City Council approved spending $15,000 to find a qualified developer for the project. Doing this and, hopefully, finding the right developer could give the city leverage to get the land back and move forward with housing. We applaud the City Council for doing this and we look forward to progress on this. In the end, permanent housing not only addresses the humane side of homelessness and gives people back some dignity with privacy and meeting basic needs, but it has also been proven to reduce the need for public services, from policing issues to emergency care. It’s a win-win for the city of Ventura and homeless vets.
According to the homeless survey, the White House and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a plan in 2010 to end Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Together with partners and supporters nationwide, the VA launched the Ending Veteran Homelessness initiative, an unprecedented effort to make sure veterans are able to obtain permanent housing and that veterans at risk of homelessness remain housed. As a result, homelessness among veterans nationwide has decreased by one-third in recent years. But there is clearly still much more work to do.
We understand that there is no sure cure for homelessness, even with available housing for those who are resistant, but the more opportunities to give dignity back to the down and out, particularly those who continue to suffer from their military service, permanent housing is a practical step in the right direction.