Housing Costs, Reluctant Landlords Doom L.A. Effort to End Veteran Homelessness
Los Angeles officials say they're housing more than 300 veterans a month. Still, the city's homeless veteran population continues to grow.
Even though 2015 was supposed to be the year the United States ended homelessness among its military veterans, former Marine Clarence Moore can’t find a place to live.
Moore lives in transitional housing at the West Los Angeles Veterans Campus and can only move about in a motorized wheelchair. He has a government housing voucher, but can’t find a landlord who will accept it and offer him a lease.
"It's been very, very difficult," Moore said. "Especially when you’re handicapped."
He’s just one of an estimated 1,700 homeless veterans in Los Angeles – the most of any city in the country. And while over 4,300 veterans were housed this year in LA, a steady influx of newly homeless vets has ensured that the goal of getting to "zero" homeless vets has remained just out of reach.
President Barack Obama pledged that he would end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, and he challenged mayors across the country to make that a priority in their cities. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed on to that "Mayor’s Challenge," but recently admitted LA won’t hit that target.
Instead, Garcetti has said the city can achieve what’s called "functional zero" by the summer of 2016.
"Functional zero" means the city will have housed all the homeless vets it's been able to identify and will have set up a safety net to rapidly re-house any vets who become homeless in the future.
That can’t come soon enough for Clarence Moore.
He served in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1971. He deployed twice to Vietnam. And he used to have a job and a place to live.
But in March, Moore was hit by a car while crossing the street. When he woke up from a coma a month later, he’d lost both his job and his home.
Moore was bedridden in a hospital until May and has been using a motorized wheelchair because he still needs more operations on his legs.
But that hasn’t stopped him from searching for an apartment.
He’s looked at apartments in Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Japantown, Koreatown, Pasadena, Highland Park, Glendale, and Santa Monica.
Moore has what’s known as VASH voucher, which the federal government issues to homeless veterans. The vouchers pay a set amount toward the veteran’s rent, but it's often hard to persuade landlords to accept them.
His voucher is worth $1,320 per month.
Since getting his voucher about two and a half months ago, Moore says he's seen about 30 apartments.
Most haven't been accessible to the handicapped, and Moore often encounters long waiting lists for apartments. Even though he has filled out lots of applications, he hasn't received even one call back.
"They're taking application fees, which results in you losing a lot of money," he said.
Money is tight, and paying dozens of application fees doesn’t help. Moore even paid for the wheelchair himself because the Department of Veterans Affairs wouldn’t buy him a motorized one.
"I wasn’t worth a wheelchair," he said, "even though I went to war and risked my life.”
In Los Angeles, the number of vets who have housing vouchers but can’t find a place to live has gone up from 700 in August to more than 1,000 today.
In LA’s tight rental market, with just a two percent vacancy rate, landlords can afford to be picky.
Some landlords say the vouchers pay less than the market value for apartments. Others just don’t want to deal with vouchers, and still others say it's too big a risk to open their doors to a formerly homeless person.
That frustrates homeless advocates. They say if they could get enough landlords on board, they could actually end veteran homelessness.
Indeed, while other cities around the country have declared an end to veteran homelessness, the total number they've housed is often less than the number of vets LA houses every month.
Christine Margiotta, director of the United Way Campaign’s "Home For Good LA" program says more than 330 vets are being housed in Los Angeles each month.
"From our understanding that is a larger volume than any other city in the country, any other region in the country, and we should be incredibly proud of that," she said.
Even though he’s been turned down dozens of times, Clarence Moore is optimistic he’ll find a place to live before his voucher expires January 23.
After it expires, Moore will have to reapply. And that could result in a one month gap before being approved. Which would mean another month that he'd still be homeless.