HOMELESS VETERANS HOUSING AT SEPULVEDA AMBULATORY CARE CENTER PROMOTION ACT -- (House of Representatives - May 07, 2007)
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Mr. SHERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the House for taking the time and focusing on an issue that is relevant to just one district, namely mine, a facility that is in my district.
I would like to thank the chairman of the committee for coming out to my district and for meeting with veterans and for meeting with those who run the VA in our area and for understanding this issue so well; and for meeting with the one developer who opposes this bill.
And I want to thank the gentlelady from Florida for taking her time to study an issue that after all just relates to one district and one facility.
Now, let me tell you why we are here. It is a story that I can relate briefly.
A developer came to our community and said they would like to provide housing for 150 homeless veterans with substance abuse problems in our suburban neighborhood. You can imagine in some communities those who believe in NIMBY-ism, ``not in my backyard,'' would have said, oh, take care of veterans, but not here. I am proud of my community.
I had countless meetings. Yes, there were a few naysayers. But finally after many meetings, the community was clear, we want to help this project. We want to help veterans, particularly those that are homeless and suffering from substance abuse problems. We as community organizations want to volunteer, our veterans organizations want to send people, our employers want to provide jobs, all so homeless veterans can get the help they need not only with housing but with substance abuse problems.
What we got in return was a clear statement of three principles: that the facility would be for veterans only; that there would be adequate staffing ratios set forth in the lease so that as long as the lease would run, we would know that it was adequately staffed; and, finally, that the facility be clean and sober because it was designed for homeless veterans with substance abuse problems. We wanted to provide the special environment these veterans need to recover.
And we assumed that once we as a community urged the VA to go forward with a program, they would open it up to a variety of organizations and say we've got two empty buildings right here in the City of Los Angeles in the North Hills community; come and give us your proposals. Instead, something else happened.
First, for reasons I do not understand, the VA decided to spend a lot of time just focused on one developer. Second, that developer, who had promised our community, and these promises were reduced to writing, that the program would have guaranteed staffing ratios, decided to back out of that promise, decided that they would rather not have to provide any particular level of funding.
They had come to us and said the program would be veterans only and would be alcohol free. But then they discovered that certain sources of funds would be available to them only if it was for general public housing; and that in order to get certain sources of funding from HUD, they would have to open it up to non-veterans and they would have to allow alcohol because in a general housing facility open to all types of homeless people, you don't turn to every homeless person and say, We will give you a roof, but you can't have a beer.
So they had to change the proposal from a design to treat homeless veterans' abuse problems in the best way possible, to one that was a general proposal. And VA headquarters decided they had already had so many discussions, it was easier for them, they wanted their statistics to look good, they wanted to cut the ribbon on a facility, that they would just go down the road and provide a 75-year, rent-free lease on valuable land in valuable buildings in the City of Los Angeles to this developer, allow non-veterans, allow alcohol use, not require any staffing ratios.
Now, what does my bill provide? It says to the VA: have an open process; allow the Salvation Army to submit a proposal; allow U.S. Vets to submit a proposal; allow the groups that met with the chairman in my district to submit proposals; and do your best to get a facility that is veterans only; that has adequate staffing ratios guaranteed; and that provides the alcohol-free therapeutic environment these veterans need. Do it in less than a year, says the bill. And if for some reason you can't find some qualified organization to submit a qualified proposal, then go forward. Do your best for veterans, but go forward, because we don't want to delay the use of these buildings to provide care for veterans for any significant amount of time.
I am confident that if the VA opens its process that these groups who have met with me and who have met with the chairman will come forward.
Now, I have recently seen a letter that is issued by the one organization that does not want an open process. They would rather just go ahead and sign a lease. Keep in mind the four issues: staffing; alcohol prohibited; veterans only; competitive bidding.
This comprehensive and long-letter response doesn't deal with the staffing issues because there is no reason to sign a 75-year, no-rent lease without the VA at least putting in there you will have so much staff. This long response does not deal with the issue of alcohol use because there is no reason that an organization that wants to help homeless veterans with substance abuse problems would allow alcohol except for the reason that that opens up funding sources that they otherwise don't have.
Instead, they focus on two other issues. The first is they say legal counsel has advised us that restricting the project to veterans only would expose us to legal liability. That is their phony argument for not having it veterans-only. Why is it phony? I used to be a lawyer. I could have advised any client who paid me that they would face legal liability if they scratched their nose. The fact is while anybody can get sued for anything, any activity, including breathing, can subject you to theoretical legal liability, all over this country we have veterans-only housing. We have a dozen projects in L.A. County alone.
And while you can always find a lawyer to say something could subject you to possible legal liability, none of these hundreds of veterans-only housing facilities has been sued.
What is the real reason? They say we have located funding sources that will not allow veterans only. That happens to be true. The Salvation Army and U.S. Vets, I am convinced and they are convinced, can find the funding sources that will allow for veterans-only projects. But this New Directions group has found only the wrong funding sources.
It is true there are many properly funded veterans-only clean and sober housing facilities across this country, but it is harder to do that kind of project than to do a project that can accept funding from those sources dedicated to general public use.
This may be an issue we in Congress want to look at. We may want to make it easier to have veterans housing in this country, to allow veterans-only projects that are alcohol-free to compete for the HUD money from particular programs, but that is a national issue. The local issue is that many organizations can do it right and can get their funding from sources that want to fund veterans-only clean and sober facilities.
Now this organization has given me an oral promise that at least initially they will only have veterans living there; but it is a 75-year, rent free, no-competitive bidding contract; and we will have no assurance that within years this project will not include both veterans and non-veterans.
This is of such importance to veterans of L.A. County because there is valuable land owned by the VA in my district, and even more valuable in an adjoining district, and every group with a good cause comes and says, Let us use this land for a non-veterans project. Sell this land and give us the money and we will help people somewhere.
But the veterans of L.A. County are very clear.
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Mr. SHERMAN. I am convinced the goal could be done in months. The bill does not provide for a super technical process. It simply says invite other groups under this bill to provide competitive bids, and it provides an absolute limit of 1 year. So this is a short-term process.
We already have other groups thinking about making proposals. They are reluctant to make proposals until they are asked for it.
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Mr. SHERMAN. So what this bill does is it opens the process to competitive proposals. It allows other groups like U.S. Vets and the Salvation Army to submit proposals. It urges the VA to try to create what we always wanted to create--veterans-only, staffing ratios, alcohol-free, and it gives them 1 year to do this. I hope they will act much, much more quickly, and I will push those other groups to submit their proposals very quickly.
Speaking of quickly, I should end this speech quickly.
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