As the nation grapples with the deep-seated problem of homeless military veterans, the Southern California-based leader of a national veterans group said progress is being made in the Inland Empire.
Steve Peck, president and CEO of U.S. Vets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing housing, employment and other critical resources for veterans, noted that ground was broken this week on a 200-bed project at March Air Reserve Base that has been in the works for years.
It will be called March Veterans Village.
Homeless veterans need more than just a roof over their heads, said Peck. They need support. They need a village.
“We are very intent on providing those services that will create stability, not just plunk them into housing,” Peck said in a phone interview on Tuesday, Nov. 10. “We want to help them address the problems that got them homeless in the first place.”
Toward that end, the Obama administration’s campaign to end veteran homelessness by the end of the calendar year has served the purpose of rallying critical support among government officials and amplifying public awareness, even if it can’t reasonably be expected to resolve the problem entirely by the deadline.
Officials estimate that about 800 homeless veterans live in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
“The (federal) goal for those of us on the ground, doing the work day to day, was an aspirational goal,” said Peck.
“It focused a lot of attention on it and the government has certainly put a lot of money into attacking this problem – in terms of both the support services grants they’ve given and the vast amount of VA support of housing vouchers. But we didn’t ever feel that it was realistic to end it by December of this year.”
Last month, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved $248,300 in general fund, housing and grant monies to secure housing for 177 remaining homeless veterans, according to a news release.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood said the county was on track to meet the goal of housing its homeless veterans by the end of year.
“We are very close and I have every expectation that we will reach this goal by the end of December,” said Lovingood in a statement.
Michelle Davis, the city of Riverside Housing Authority manager, said that according to the most recent point-in-time homeless count last January, 86 of Riverside County’s 399 homeless veterans were found in the city.
Davis said there are different levels of service for homeless veterans: emergency shelter beds, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing. The city keeps a list with the names of the homeless veterans it has identified to better track its efforts.
“That’s the way we’ve been able to clearly identify how many folks we’ve housed,” said Davis. “And anybody that we’re currently engaging, we do a coordinated assessment and identify their housing barriers. Then based upon that survey, we identify a housing intervention program.”
The problem, said Davis, is that list just keeps growing.
”You do get folks that come in from other areas that you don’t anticipate,“ said Davis.