This week’s Time magazine cover shows five young American veterans: one is a published author, another is a Rhodes scholar. Notably absent from the cover is any one of the 8,000 American homeless veterans living on the streets of Los Angeles today.
Southern California’s homeless veteran crisis is not simply a matter of scarce resources in tough times: Since 1888, the Veterans Administration (VA) has owned and operated a 387-acre campus in Brentwood intended to provide shelter and services to disabled veterans.
And for more than a decade, the VA has been exploiting that land.
Instead of housing veterans, the VA has been leasing the land to more than twenty private commercial enterprises. While veterans spend their nights on the streets of Skid Row or in parks near the Brentwood campus, the former site of the Pacific Branch Soldier’s Home now houses car rental companies, hotels, oil companies, and private schools.
In June, the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit against the VA to ensure that the land donated for the benefit of disabled veterans isn’t misused for private commercial gain.
The LA Times reported this morning that the VA adjusted the lease agreements of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Tumbleweed Charter Buses, Inc., and food services company Sodexo Inc., instructing them to move to different parts of the campus and cutting their contracts short.
The VA’s actions are an admission that these leases are an inappropriate use of the campus, but they do nothing to provide a single unit of housing to the thousands of homeless veterans in Los Angeles. And they do nothing to answer any of the public’s questions about the misuse of land.
How is much the land is being leased for? We don’t know.
How were the deals were negotiated? We don’t know.
The biggest question is whether any of that money goes to the stated purpose of the VA campus: sheltering and rehabilitating America’s veterans? We don’t know, but we intend to find out.
David Sapp is a staff attorney at the ACLU/SC.
Civil liberties are most vulnerable at times of crisis