“Being homeless is like going to hell and back,” said Warren Miller, an Army Veteran who experienced homelessness for many years until connecting with staff at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System’s West Los Angeles campus. This is the story of how Miller went from unhoused to housed, thanks to a new and unique collaboration.
Originally from Chicago, Miller made his way to Los Angeles and enlisted in the Army in 1973. Falling on hard times and prolonged periods of unemployment, he fell into homelessness over the past few years.
Eventually, Miller turned to VA, which worked with him during the time he was homeless. In December 2020, a VA counselor connected him with a housing solution that has worked well for him: the Care, Treatment & Rehabilitative Services (CTRS) initiative. CTRS is a low-barrier-to-entry outreach program that provides homeless Veteran participants a safe, clean, designated tented living area and regular access to medical care, behavioral health services and housing services on the West Los Angeles campus.
CTRS is a collaboration between Greater Los Angeles VA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. The goal of this initiative is to improve unsheltered Veterans’ health care outcomes, while moving them toward permanent housing solutions.
“CTRS has sustained me. My experience with CTRS staff and the other participants has been consistently pleasant,” said Miller.
Miller, inside his tiny shelter.
CTRS is located on a large, grassy area of the VA West LA campus called the Grand Lawn. Veterans can either walk up to the area to participate or be referred by VA staff. The Community Engagement & Reintegration Service, which oversees the initiative, also performs regular outreach to unsheltered Veterans around the greater Los Angeles area, connecting them to housing options – including CTRS – and other VA services.
“Providing Veterans with shelter is critically important to putting them on the path to stability and success in their lives,” said Chanin Santini, CTRS supervisor. “Overcoming homelessness is not easy. Many of the Veterans we work with are also struggling with substance abuse issues and/or mental illness, which create additional barriers to success. We want Veterans to know that we’re here for them, and that it’s our mission to see them succeeding and thriving,” Santini added.
VA is currently expanding CTRS to include tiny shelters, which come fully equipped with a bed and mattress, fire life safety equipment, as well as air conditioning and heating. Miller is one of the first Veterans to occupy the first three shelters that arrived at the West Los Angeles Campus on Oct. 6.
“We’re very excited to begin offering the tiny shelters as a housing option to Veterans who are transitioning from the streets to more permanent housing solutions,” said Matthew McGahran, chief, Community Engagement & Reintegration Service. “While CTRS participants will still be welcome to reside in tents if they choose, the tiny shelters provide additional privacy and protection from the elements, helping to make participants more comfortable as they work with their case managers to receive the supportive and medical services available to them on campus,” McGahran continued.
An additional 25 shelters were added to the initiative on Oct. 29, and VA is actively working to place more in the coming months. The CERS team has a protocol in place to prioritize higher-risk Veterans and those who are actively working with VASH for the shelters as they continue to arrive.
Miller now has a housing voucher through HUD-VASH and will be moving into a one-bedroom apartment this December. To Veterans who are unhoused but who are ready to be connected to housing options, he adds: “Give VA a try. It works.”
If you know a homeless or at-risk Veteran who could use VA services in the Los Angeles area, call the West Los Angeles Campus Welcome Center at (310) 268-3269.
Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness are strongly encouraged to contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4AID-VET (877-424-3838) for assistance.