Jim Terpstra is a Navy veteran who happens to be a very talented writer. For a reason he reveals in the video below, Jim became homeless, and while struggling to get his life back on track, contacted The Veterans Project about our mentoring program. Greg Miller, Robert Corsini and Jeff Norman agreed to help Jim develop and package his material with an eye toward launching a career as a comedy writer in Hollywood. In the meanwhile, he began to receive long-delayed compensation from the VA for his service-connected disability, and Jim is now living safely in a transitional residence in Los Angles. The video is based on an essay he wrote.
In an interview with CNN’s Kyra Phillips and a related op-ed, Rep. Jackie Speier of California calls attention to the high incidence and appalling tolerance of rape in the U.S. military.
With an estimated 107,000 homeless vets in the U.S., Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Caleb Hellerman explored their daily struggles and the legal battle over a plan to help them, on CNN Presents.
When Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, who is part of the dream team representing homeless veterans in their lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs, appeared on Charlie Rose last year, he confidently predicted the plaintiffs would prevail. Referring to the VA’s failure to provide housing to homeless veterans, and its mysterious rental agreements with corporate leaseholders at its sprawling campus in Los Angeles, Tribe told Rose: “They’re not going to be able to keep this under the rug much longer.” The first legal hurdle was cleared on March 16 when the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied the VA’s motion to dismiss, and ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs has an enforceable legal obligation to ensure that homeless individuals with severe mental disabilities can meaningfully access mental health and other services. Click here to read the decision, and here to watch the interview with Tribe.
Rick Reyes, a 31-year-old Marine veteran from East LA’s Boyle Heights district, brings all the key perspectives to the table when he joins the discussion on the widespread and growing problem of homelessness among vets. First of all he’s a veteran himself – of Afghanistan (with the first battalion to set foot there in 2001) and Iraq (three years) – and came home with both physical injuries (though no wounds) and PTSD issues.
Second, he’s schooled in housing matters, with several years under his belt as a loan officer with a major player in the mortgage industry, then acquiring a real estate license and operating his own lending company. Last but not least, he brings the firsthand perspective of the homeless, having spent five months undercover at a Salvation Army shelter after his fixer-upper home in a South LA suburb was foreclosed on in 2009.
A lot of Rick’s knowledge came the hard way — learning the pitfalls of adjustable mortgages when he had to choose between food and timely payments; discovering the devious ways of banks when his home’s auction date was revealed to him while he thought the bank was in the process of “working things out” on a revised payment plan. “I saw how easy it is to end up homeless,” he says ruefully.
Hearing about many vets in the same predicament, after discussing things with Jeff Norman of The Veterans Project, Rick decided to do a little field-work, checking into the Salvation Army shelter in the city of Bell, a gritty suburb in Southern Los Angeles. Journalist John Seeley talked to Rick about what he learned there about the problems and prospects of homeless vets:
Q. What’s your overall take on the shelter option as a solution for homeless vets?
A. In a lot of ways it’s the exact opposite of what the homeless vet needs for a successful transition back into society. You have bed checks, a 7 PM curfew — there’s no privacy, no dignity. It’s worse than being on base. And this is an environment shared with hardened criminals, drug users, the chronically ill — is that what we need, to be thrown in with felons?
Q. Are there some positive aspects to the program there?
A. There are some training programs that may help some. But the counselling — half the time they weren’t there, and I was in school, working toward a college degree. But they tried to persuade me to quit!
Q. You don’t think they give good direction for people.
A. Well, learning to run a forklift wasn’t the best strategy for me. But there’s a bigger problem — the strict guidelines they have, check-in every few hours etc. makes it hard for the people who really need the services most, the ones with stress problems or possible brain damage. If you have problems with memory or time, you really can’t make it in their “merit” system.
Q. Even the best of shelters are just a short-run, transitional solution, of course. What’s available for vets who need longer-term help?
A. Good question.The good news is there’s a VA housing program where you get a voucher for a year or two and, kinda like Section 8, you pay 30% of the rent out of your wages or disability payments and the VA pays the other 70%.
Q. The bad news?
A. The housing, like Section 8 rentals, isn’t in such desirable areas, so it’s not great for vets with families. But the real bad news is the program’s frozen — no new applicants, no new vouchers are being given out. And it was only in effect for a year or so.
Q. Great. I guess that makes the need for new initiatives all the more urgent then?
A. Yeah. So I’m trying to get businesspeople — in construction and development especially — interested in some private-public projects, maybe just as demonstrations of what could be done.
Q. What sort of housing would you like to see come out of that?
A. There’s a need for many different things — from hotel-type, two-to-a-room setups to more dorm-like housing for four, five or six, to family-type housing. Hopefully, we can work with some banks on foreclosed properties and see what supporters can do in supplying construction materials and labor, and see if we can’t come up with something that could be kind of a model.