Getting a copy of a driver’s license or birth certificate can be frustrating, taking time and money. But it’s certainly not an insurmountable task.
Now imagine trying to do it while also being homeless, struggling to survive day to day and also dealing with mental health issues or a disability. Something as basic as ordering a copy of your birth certificate has now become a serious challenge.
Veterans who are experiencing homelessness often find themselves trapped in a state of zero velocity, unable to qualify for financial assistance or apply for a subsidized apartment because they don’t have proper identification. A birth certificate and a valid ID are required to apply for a wide range of services. Without them, you’re unable to improve your life and create a pathway out of homelessness.
This reality was the impetus for VA Greater Los Angeles to recently host Veteran Document Day at the West LA VA Welcome Center (also known as the Community Resource and Referral Center), creating a convenient way for those who have served to get the documents they need to access critical services.
“Just having an ID opens up so many doors,” said Deborah Carter, VA assistant chief of Community Engagement and Reintegration Services (CERS), and a licensed social worker who has spent much of her career working directly with homeless Veterans. “Creating a safe space where vulnerable Veterans can walk in, a place where they feel at home and are familiar with, with people who understand their needs, and get the critical documents they need is just incredible.
“I cannot thank enough the many partners who helped make this possible and we are looking forward to doing these as often as possible with even more entities joining us,” Carter added.
On the day of the event more than two dozen Veterans gathered in the courtyard of Building 257, eagerly awaiting their opportunity to meet with representatives from the DMV, LA County Registrar-Recorder’s Office and Department of Public Social Services, the Social Security Administration, and local service providers. No appointments were necessary. Some Veterans engaged in small talk, others sat quietly, scrolling through their smartphones, while one began playing a harmonica.
“It’s very convenient and helpful, very helpful, great location and there are lots of people here to help you, and get your questions answered,” said Army Veteran Michael Hefty, who needed a new California ID to continue moving forward with his housing plan.
Hefty qualifies for housing assistance under the HUD-VASH program and has hopes of landing an apartment near Marina del Rey, which has a pool and jacuzzi to help him recuperate from a recent knee surgery at the West LA VA Medical Center. Hefty currently resides at the West LA VA Domiciliary (DOM), a mental health residential rehabilitation treatment program, making it easy for him to head over to the Welcome Center for Document Day.
Another Veteran also at the DOM, Jesus Siqueiros, who served as a Marine during the Vietnam War, was seated next to Hefty, scrolling through his Instagram account featuring images of his artwork and photos of a recent fishing trip. Siqueiros needed an ID so that he could also secure supportive housing.
“This is excellent,” he said of the event. “More convenient than having to go to the DMV, and more pleasant.”
Siqueiros, who struggles with addiction, is deaf in one ear and has trouble communicating. He was grateful there were VA social workers at the event to provide him guidance and speak for him if needed. He didn’t think he would have been able to handle the stress of going to a government office on his own to request his documentation.
“Unless you work with this population day to day, you don’t understand how hard it can be to sit at the DMV and wait,” said Rebecca Ricci, executive program director for Village for Vets, a VA partner that provides supportive services to Veterans and Veteran families. “Here Veterans can be treated by those who know their experience. It is those little things that can make a huge difference. Just being at the VA today, instead of at a DMV office, makes a Veteran feel more comfortable. This is a place they know.”
Document Day is a collaboration between VA, the various federal and county agencies, as well as the offices of State Senator Ben Allen and LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath.
Allen, who attended the event, said the turnout and feedback from Veterans suggests more Document Days are needed.
“The least we can do is help our Veterans get their documents in order to access the services they need and deserve,” Allen said. “I want to thank Village for Vets for raising the challenges of accessing documents … which inspired this document service day. This would not be possible without the close collaboration between the VA, Supervisor Horvath’s office and Village for Vets.”
For more information on homeless services provided by VA, please click HERE, or contact the Welcome Center at 310-268-3269. For help accessing temporary housing, call the Temporary Housing Hotline at 310-268-3350.