The Brentwood VA campus’ new bridge housing facility shelters and protects those who served

By Evan Henerson

Bridge housing at the Brentwood VA will temporarily house 50 vets at a time and offer “safe camping” with access to restroom facilities and meals

With rain in the forecast and a global pandemic driving everyone who has the means to go indoors, the slightly futuristic-looking new structures on the grounds of the Brentwood Veterans Administration campus are providing much-needed shelter in more ways than one.

Last Friday and Saturday were move-in days for a number of homeless veterans who were admitted into the “A Bridge Housing” facilities at the VA campus. Originally designed to be a 100-bed transitional shelter, the new bridge housing has been reconfigured to hold a smaller number of residents and also to help keep them from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

“This has been a long haul and we’re really excited that it’s up and running and that we have been able to get several veterans housed already,” said Dr. Anjani Reddy, Clinical Director of Community Engagement and Reintegration Services for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS). “There have been some very positive attitudes and lots of individuals really stretching to get this done. It’s thanks to their hard work that we have been able to do this.”

The bridge housing facility is part of a 2018 initiative passed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council that is designed to help address the homeless crisis. The program takes advantage of a state law passed in 2018 allowing the city to quickly build housing on land owned or leased by the City of Los Angeles. Councilmembers have identified areas in their various districts that have high-density concentrations of homeless. A previous bridge housing shelter opened in Venice — also within Councilman Mike Bonin’s District 11 — in February.

In development for more than a year, the VA campus bridge housing is a collaborative effort between the city and county of Los Angeles, VAGLAHS and private partnership. Construction began on the structure in December of 2018, but the project was delayed for nearly a year when workers discovered asbestos and other elements in need of cleanup.

“We were happy to pay for it and we were happy to build it just as we’re happy to help pay for some of the long-term housing that will go in there, too,” said Bonin. “Our hope was that if we built it, not only would they come, but that the VA would open it and so we’re glad they did.”

The facility will offer temporary housing to up to 50 residents who will all be screened and must have no symptoms of COVID-19. The units have been configured to meet Centers for Disease Control (CDC) health guidelines, with beds placed a minimum of six feet apart. Veterans get access to shower and laundry facilities, meals and other on-site case management. Bridge housing occupants – all of whom are male – will likely stay in the facility between three and six months before hopefully transitioning to more permanent housing, according to Reddy.

In addition to opening bridge housing, the VA campus has implemented additional measures to help veterans stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The campus is converting 138 beds in Building 214 to isolation/self-quarantining units and the VA has also implemented “safe camping” in tents on the campus. Veterans using the tents will also get access to showers, restrooms and meals.

According to 2019 data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there are approximately 3,800 homeless veterans living in Los Angeles County. Collaborative efforts like the bridge housing and the other efforts on and around the VA campus will help fill an important need, according to Reddy.

“This is a time of incredible need and our teams have all come together across multiple different programs and services to make this happen quickly,” Reddy said. “This is an atypical situation and now more than ever, our veterans need our support and help.”