‘I made it home:’ Homeless vets celebrate new Harbor Gateway apartments

DAILY BREEZE – A congresswoman, philanthropic-minded developers and investors all lined up to speak Thursday at the grand opening celebration of the Vermont Villas in Harbor Gateway.

But it was Army veteran Jimmie Lee Anderson, who spent years living on Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row fighting addiction issues, who got the heartfelt standing ovation.

“I’m 56 years old and I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life,” Anderson told the crowd of dignitaries that gathered for the unveiling of the 79-unit apartment building for homeless vets. “The first time I slept in a bed, it was like new to me. … Now I can be a father to the daughter I get to see now.”

Anderson is among the 68 residents who are fast filling the new apartments at 16304 S. Vermont Ave. The four-story project, costing $22 million and taking 2 1/2 years to plan and build, was an ambitious collaboration with Affirmed Housing and PATH Ventures taking the lead.

And it is, homeless advocates agree, the public-private model that needs to be quickly replicated throughout the Los Angeles area amid a homelessness crisis that has overwhelmed communities and government officials.

It is, said South Bay Rep. Maxine Waters, “what we need all over this country.”

“What we have today before us is the answer: permanent supportive housing,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino of the project that is within his district. “This is the model that works and it works well.”

But at the same time, housing needs are immediate throughout the area, advocates said. They urged landlords to provide more affordable units for veterans and other homeless individuals who already have qualified for — and have vouchers for — temporary housing.

Affordable housing, said Amy Wakeland, wife of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, “is a continuing crisis” in Los Angeles.

Specifically, she called on landlords to sign up with Homes For Heroes program through United Way, adding that more than 500 veterans who are homeless are “walking around with (housing) vouchers they cannot use” because of the lack of available units.

Nonprofit and faith-based groups, she said, can help as well by preparing “move-in” kits for the new projects.

The Harbor Gateway development is one of several being opened by PATH Ventures, which specializes in developing permanent supportive housing.

The idea is to permanently house homeless individuals first, then provide so-called “wrap-around” services on site that include training, counseling and other assistance.

A manager and case worker will live in one of the apartments at Vermont Villas, which includes community rooms, a computer room, outdoor patio space and a kitchen where cooking classes and other community events can be held.

PATH Villas at Del Rey, providing 23 units for formerly homeless individuals, opened last month in West Los Angeles, and Long Beach & 21st Apartments, providing 41 affordable units, including 26 for homeless, were completed in April.

The good news, said Marc Trotz, is that homelessness now has the close attention of government officials and many in the private sector as well.

“It’s better than it used to be,” said Trotz, director of Housing for Health, a new program that creates a range of residential housing options linked to public housing and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

While there is a big hole to dig out of, he said, a corner may have been turned.

“Community leadership is emerging and in five years people will be saying. ‘Look at what L.A. has done,’ ” Trotz said. “It will be a message to the rest of the country that we can do this.”

For Anderson and the other new residents, though, Thursday’s celebration was intensely personal.

“We were out there, we didn’t have nowhere to go,” Anderson said. “It was a journey, but we made it. I made it home.”