Veronique Dupont –
Kendrick Bailey is standing outside the tent he has pitched on a sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles and points to the American flag he served proudly during the Vietnam War.
Bailey, who is in his sixties, is among an ever-growing population of veterans in Los Angeles who face challenges readjusting to civilian life and eventually become homeless.
“I never had a job,” he says, struggling to explain his predicament.
Though friends initially would offer their couch, he said he quickly overstayed his welcome and got sucked into the same vicious circle facing many veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unemployment, alcoholism, family issues, and end up on the street.
Many have also served prison time.
Their plight has been at the centre of debate for decades, with successive administrations vowing to tackle the problem and pledging millions of dollars in assistance, including housing. According to a new count released in May, the number of homeless people in the Los Angeles area jumped 23 per cent last year to reach nearly 58,000. Of those, some 5,000 are veterans.
“There is little doubt that veteran homelessness is now moving in the wrong direction,” said Gary Blasi, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles who has studied the issue.
“We do not house veterans as quickly as veterans are becoming newly homeless,” he added.
Blasi said one of the key obstacles to getting veterans off the streets is the lack of affordable housing in a city where rents are skyrocketing. Many landlords in addition are hesitant to rent to a veteran trying to get out of homelessness even though the state usually acts as a guarantor.
Several associations have been engaged in a lengthy legal battle with Veterans Affairs, a government body, to force it to implement a plan to refurbish a run-down campus in Los Angeles for housing veterans.
“The question everybody is asking is where is the money?” said General Dogon, an activist with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN). Dogon lashed out at city officials, saying they were making empty promises that only look good on paper.
Activists also accuse officials of getting rid of buildings with affordable rents in favour of multi-million dollar high rises that are transforming the skyline of downtown Los Angeles.
Added to that, they say, are the numerous obstacles facing homeless veterans, many of whom are handicapped and don’t know how to navigate the system to seek assistance. —AFP