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Housing and Homelessness

Few Of LA's Unhoused Veterans Are Getting A Place To Live. New Research Partly Blames 'Ineffective' Outreach

A row of tents line a sidewalk in Los Angeles under the shade canopy of a tree.
A homeless encampment on First Street across from City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
(Chava Sanchez
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A new study by the RAND Corporation and USC found that few veterans experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles have been able to obtain permanent housing.

Many of the unhoused veterans told the researchers that obtaining housing was their life's goal, but many became disillusioned about their chances of achieving it, according to Sarah Hunter, who directs the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness in L.A.

"I think it's also important to note that outreach services appear to be ineffective," she said. Hunter said when the year-long study began, there were only five outreach workers at the VA to serve all of L.A. County's nearly 4,000 unhoused veterans.

Hunter and her colleagues followed 26 veterans experiencing homeless, from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2020. Many of the participants said they had mental health issues as well as physical ailments. Seven of them reported using an illicit substance other than marijuana.

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Most of the participants said housing was a priority for them when they entered the study; while 17 found some sort of stable housing over the course of the year, only three found permanent housing.

The study found that veterans who did find stable housing had reduced symptoms of distress, depression and psychosis, as well as an overall increase in their quality of life.

Marijuana use also dipped slightly after housing was secured, according to the report. But even for someone deemed vulnerable and a high priority for housing, it can take several months or even years to get accommodation due to the bureaucratic process of obtaining paperwork and clearance. On top of that, there's the lack of affordable housing in L.A. County.

Federal marijuana policy is another obstacle. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it will continue to deny federally-subsidized housing to marijuana smokers, regardless of state laws.

As for Project Roomkey, Hunter said it's too soon to assess its effectiveness, given that it's been a temporary solution.

The successor project, Project Homekey, is intended as a permanent housing solution. The RAND scientist noted the initiative demonstrates that the state and city can put up housing quickly — with enough urgency behind the effort.

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