It Was Just 30 Units, But An East L.A. Apartment Fire Underscores The Veteran Housing Crisis
Speaker 1: 00:00 Just weeks before residents began moving in a fire, destroyed a new housing complex for low income veterans in East Los Angeles. The laws underscored the severe housing crisis for veterans in Southern California, which has the nation's second largest homeless population. Robert Grover reports for the American Homefront project Speaker 2: 00:22 In September, Manuel Bernard got some news. He and his team couldn't believe four years worth of work. Just burned down in a matter of hours. Brunel is president of the East Los Angeles community corporation, a non-profit affordable housing developer. The massive pile of rubble that he's standing in front of was supposed to become desperately needed low income housing in this working class neighborhood. It was 70% complete before it burned down dub the Nueva Monticello or new Dawn complex. It would have offered about 30 units for low-income veterans move ins were slated for the end of the year. We all see it right. We walked through the city, we'd drive through the city and there are encampments everywhere. Homelessness crisis in general is severe here in Los Angeles County. The latest count found about 3,900 homeless vets. The numbers are basically flat over last year, even though this population has seen bumps in federal state and local investment over the past 10 years in an expensive real estate market advocates say the money doesn't go as far and in a city, this big it's hard to reach veterans in need. Being able to provide housing that is service enriched to help homeless veterans is a tremendous need in this, in this city. It totally changes lives at one of Bernard's organizations, completed projects, just a five minute drive from the burndown building. Several veterans I spoke with agreed. They use similar language. When talking about the 32 unit complex for senior veterans, they now call home Speaker 3: 01:49 Absolutely a godsend. As far as I'm concerned, it's a godsend for me. I was on Speaker 1: 01:55 The street for like almost five years. Speaker 3: 01:58 It's a godsend I'm even here. Speaker 2: 01:59 That was Fred Washington, John Wright and James Williams Williams entered the Marine Corps in 1979 and says he was trained as a sniper and later traveled around the country, giving desert and jungle survival demonstrations. He lived on the streets for 20 years before he found a home at this complex six years ago, William says the stability has given him time to heal. Speaker 3: 02:21 And when I did it three Mia, okay, because being homeless is traumatized. It's nothing that you up. It can cause some real serious mental illness. You know, I was suffering from now to go. And that's when I get here, anxiety, depression, screamingly, bad. I had to find treatment Speaker 2: 02:38 Williams and his neighbors were all saddened by the news of the burndown project. Especially since they know firsthand what's at stake. Speaker 3: 02:45 I know veterans who have died on this Creek. They never made it off. You know, they never made it Speaker 2: 02:52 Retired. Marine Corps. Captain Leo Quadro is president of new directions for veterans. A nonprofit that provides ongoing supportive where Williams lives. He says his group has 510 units that it operates with 157 that are in our pipeline. Quadro says based on the latest homeless count and other factors, it's estimated that about 3,700 units will be needed to address the veteran homelessness issue in the County. There are also concerns that that could get worse based on the current unstable economic situation that we're in due to the pandemic. Back at the side of the Nueva, I'm on a sadder project, Bernal and his team continue to chip away at the problem. It's been a difficult journey emotionally to rebuild, but, uh, we're going to get there. They're hoping to complete reconstruction by the end of 2021. I'm Robert [inaudible]. Speaker 1: 03:42 This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.