n Feature ter and their development partners have created over the years,” says Steve Peck, president and CEO of the United States Veterans Initiative, based out of Los Angeles. “It’s not only housing, but the solution to homelessness is housing connected to services, which is critical.” SOCIAL SUPPORT It’s a supportive network that’s missing on the streets. Vet- erans can lose their ties to friends and family when rela- tionships fray as a result of substance abuse, mental illness or other fallout. Such an example is the Veterans Village of San Diego, which with five locations throughout the county, has been operating since the early ‘80s and provides a “continuum of care” for homeless veterans just coming off the street, to those with substance abuse and trauma issues, to those in permanent housing. “One size doesn’t fit all, so we’ll build a specific program that’s determined by a needs analysis when you get here,” says Phil Landis, president of the VVSD. “No one has a long- term residential trauma center like ours, but you’ll find commonality in all the major California service providers.” Ground was recently broken on a permanent housing project in Escondido, Landis says, which aims to serve 100, with 54 units of one, two, and three-bedroom units. He an- ticipates occupancy by early 2018. Another example is in Long Beach, Calif. – the Centu- ry Villages at Cabrillo – which offers 572 affordable homes throughout the 27-acre campus community. “All of us have a social network of friends and family, and all that support is even more important to veterans,” Peck says. “Those who have been homeless have lost that social network. Part of what we want to do, after we get them stabilized, is to rebuild that.” Because California has so many large military bases, and many veterans are discharged here, too many end up on the streets, says Peck, of the United States Veterans Ini- tiative. The challenge, he says, is to get government agen- cies (such as the state, counties, cities, Veterans Affairs and HUD) involved and working together to address the home- less situation. “We share this common philosophy that housing with- out services will not solve the problem,” Peck says. One of the Veterans Village’s simplest features, a few benches in the courtyard, have facilitated healing, says Rancho Cordova Councilman David Sander, who was piv- otal in the early development stages of the project. “They can wake up in the middle of the night, and they find those benches in the courtyard are the best therapy 128 CAPITAL REGION CARES 2017 | comstocksmag.com they can find,” Sander says, who was serving as the mayor of Rancho Cordova when Phase 1 was completed. “At any time of the day there’s someone there ... nobody planned that — it’s a total accident — but to see it work that way is pretty gratifying.” Peck says Mather Veterans Village and other housing projects in the state (such as in San Diego, Long Beach, Los Angeles and the Bay Area) with built-in services are the best model to serve the chronically homeless vet population. While many have income from disability and/or Social Se- curity, many don’t remain housed due to “the variety of is- sues that got them homeless in the first place.” With case management, “it gives us the ability to work with them, stabilize them, and make sure when they get into housing, that they remain there,” Peck says. In the meantime, Walker says services continue to ex- pand at Mather Veterans Village, including the recent ad- dition of an on-site 12-step recovery meeting. The Ameri- can Red Cross recently signed on to facilitate classes such as employment coaching, resume building, CPR training, finance management, nutrition, stress management, par- enting and more. Tenant retention has been relatively high, Walker says, with only four or five moving in the last year. “Most of the time, people want to stay here forever,” he says. McChesney says as the United State’s military activity around the world increases, so will veterans’ needs when they return home. “There’s been this historical, steady in- crease in the exposure of veterans to combat circumstanc- es, which leads to both PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and other physical disabilities,” he said. “A lot of painkiller abuse is common. “I’m a Vietnam veteran, and the typical veteran served one year in combat, came home and got out of service. The current soldiers are serving, two, three, four and five tours, and exposed to much in that combat theater.” For Vercelli, the permanent apartment and access to re- sources has made life more manageable, though he’s cau- tious to say he’s got anything solved. “I still battle demons every day,” he says. “I got dragons I need to slay.”” n Karen Wilkinson is a journalist, writer, communications con- sultant and yoga teacher. She gained newspaper experience along California’s North Coast.