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The Next Site For Mayor Garcetti's Temporary Bridge Shelters? The VA Campus In Brentwood

The VA West Los Angeles Medical Center, part of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. The campus will be the site of the second temporary bridge shelter opened as part of Mayor Garcetti's "A Bridge Home" initiative. (Libby Denkmann/KPCC).
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A site has been chosen for another one of Mayor Garcetti's bridge housing facilities, part of his push to get new temporary housing built for the homeless in each of Los Angeles' 15 council districts.

This project is specifically for homeless veterans, and it'll be on the West L.A. Department of Veterans Affairs campus in Brentwood.

The facility is slated for an early 2019 opening with a planned 100 temporary beds, along with bathrooms, laundry and "hygiene centers" inside large, industrial tents and trailers. There will be two structures with 50 beds each -- one for female veterans and another for men.

They're modeled after the Veterans Village temporary bridge shelter in San Diego. The city council there just approved more funding to keep its tent facilities open.

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The funding model for the VA bridge housing in West L.A. will be slightly different than other proposals: the city and county will pay the estimated $5 million for construction, while the VA has pledged supportive services and case management for residents. The VA will also handle intake, including making sure someone has veteran status, and work to transition veterans into permanent housing solutions.

And unlike other proposed bridge housing projects in Venice, K-Town and Sherman Oaks that have faced neighborhood pushback, Brentwood neighbors have generally been supportive of the goal of housing veterans on the VA campus, said Councilmember Mike Bonin. He introduced legislation on Tuesday to allocate city funds to the project and direct the department to start work. L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl will do the same for county dollars next week.

"The kind of feedback I've been getting is 'How can I help? How can we get them to move faster, do more?'" Bonin said. "So I think it'll wind up being a very good, supportive relationship."

But in a statement, the councilmember's office also took care to note the bridge housing "will not be visible from the exterior of the campus" --possibly a nod to potential neighborhood concerns. Protesters in other communities have been vocal about their worries over safety, sanitation and damage to property values, issues they claim would follow temporary housing.

So far, one other "A Bridge Home" facility has opened at the El Pueblo site in downtown L.A. near Union Station. (LAist is keeping track of all the proposals, studies and final locations of Garcetti's bridge housing initiative on this handy map.)

"I think the bridge housing is a symbol of the commitment that our community has to this issue," said Heidi Marston, the West L.A. VA's director of community engagement and reintegration. "Hopefully it will set the tone for other communities and show it can be done."

It's happening in the context of a years-long legal battle over housing veterans on the 388-acre VA campus sandwiched between some of L.A.'s ritziest neighborhoods. (You can read more about the odyssey here.)

A 2015 legal settlement with homeless and disabled veterans requires the VA to build 1,200 units of supportive housing on the land.

But so far, just 54 veterans have moved into apartments. Another 110 units are supposed to open in early 2020, but the start of construction -- initially planned for this summer -- has been pushed back, possibly to early 2019.

Most plans to overhaul the campus are still undergoing environmental reviews, and the agency is also in the process of hiring a principal developer to oversee the bulk of new housing, a move officials say will speed up construction.

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Marston stressed the new shelter is a temporary solution on the way to the VA's larger goal of permanent housing for veterans, similar to the Safe Parking program the campus opened in April.

"We want to make sure we're doing everything we can in the meantime to get veterans off the street," she said.

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