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Chronically Homeless Vets to Get Homes in Boyle Heights

An apartment complex to house chronically homeless senior citizens who are veterans of the US Armed Forces is going up on the eastside. Construction of the Beswick Senior Apartments—the first of its kind in Boyle Heights—is scheduled to be complete in fall of 2014.

Lea esta nota en ESPAÑOL:  Veteranos Crónicamente Sin Techo Tendrán Hogar en Boyle Heights [1]

The $12.5 million-dollar low-income development project at 3553 Beswick St. was celebrated last week with the signing of a construction beam by co-developers East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) and New Directions for Veterans, Inc., and others. The beam will be incorporated into the two-story structure with 32 one-bedroom units to house veterans.

Construction of a housing complex for elderly homeless veterans began five months ago; project partners gathered last week for a ‘beam signing’ celebration at the facility. (Photo courtesy of ELACC) [2]

Construction of a housing complex for elderly homeless veterans began five months ago; project partners gathered last week for a ‘beam signing’ celebration at the facility. (Photo courtesy of ELACC)

The apartment complex is meant to be permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless and disabled U.S war veterans who are 62 and older, according to ELACC.

“It’s about time something like this would happen… and hopefully this is the start of many” [more], said Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4696 Commander Tony Zapata, who led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Zapata, a long-time resident of Boyle Heights, participated in ELACC’s community meetings, advocating for the apartments construction. “These brave people who have served this country deserve decent housing… I can’t stand to see a veteran living under a bridge,” Zapata said in a written statement.

Zapata’s VFW members will help rename the development, according to ELACC.

Maria Cabildo, president of ELACC, said construction on the development began five months ago but a ground-breaking ceremony was not held in order to “show action” and to cut perceptions about how long the construction is taking to complete.

The project, however, was not without opposition, according to Cabildo who said some Boyle Heights residents do not support ELACC’s affordable housing developments. “These individuals have a serious compassion deficit,” said Cabildo, who at the same time commended veterans living in the community who support the development.

New Direction for Veterans President and CEO Gregory Scott called the event historical, but he too acknowledged that they received pushback from residents who oppose homeless veterans moving into their neighborhood.

“… New Directions is not far from that pushback when we’re trying to do right, but we always know that compassion always wins … no matter what the opposition is,” he said.

Scott said New Directions wants to someday eliminate the term “homeless veteran.”

“Our vision and mission is to empower all veterans and their families to live a vital and sustainable life. We believe that no man or woman who wears a service uniform, who risks their life to serve this county, should ever be without a home or a job or food in their homeland,” he said. “Nobody thinks being homeless is the best, most comfortable, safest way to live. Nobody wants to beg for food, or beg for attention looking for food, shelter, clothing…”

Opponents of affordable housing in Boyle Heights have previously told EGP that they oppose such projects because they do not give priority to local residents and because they exclude undocumented immigrants in the mostly Latino community, while bringing in the homeless from other parts of the city. They in turn draw their homeless associates to loiter in the area.

Residents worry that the chronically homeless suffer from mental illness, perhaps caused by trauma. As a result, affordable housing projects targeted to the chronically homeless, including veterans, is unattractive to some local homeowners.

According to ELACC, however, the new apartment complex will offer on-site case management, mental health services, and other services provided by New Directions. Other partners include the Department of Veteran Affairs, Los Angeles County Department of Military Affairs, Behavioral Health Services, and Weingart East LA YMCA.

Eastern LA County is home to 856 homeless veterans according to the 2011 Greater LA Homeless Count Report, ELACC stated in a press release.