Helping La Jolla vets transition off the streets
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 02/10/17 - 02:30 PM | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A homeless veteran displays his service photo at a recent 'Stand Down' event.
A homeless veteran displays his service photo at a recent 'Stand Down' event.
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VIP usually stands for a very important person.

But in La Jolla, thanks to the efforts of a new nonprofit, it signifies “Veterans Independence Project.”

VIP seeks to get homeless veterans off the streets permanently by providing them with affordable and permanent housing, education and long-term employment. That will be accomplished through a three-year program to get homeless vets off the streets, one more step toward their independence.

This “renewal” program was put together by VIP’s president, Richard Valero, a Vietnam War veteran with the Navy SEALS. Valero actually lived on the streets and shelters of San Diego for a year to obtain an understanding of the struggles that homeless veterans face daily.

In an exclusive interview with the La Jolla Village News, Valero discussed his vision for reclaiming vets from the street, transitioning them into “permanent supportive and affordable housing” and repurposing their lives.

He noted it's difficult for some military vets to transition into civilian life.

“When you exit the military, there's no follow-up, nothing about going to get the GI Bill, or enrolling in college or the VA Health System,” said Valero who, along with representative Lou Torio, is promoting VIP while searching for affordable housing for vets.

Valero noted nonprofits exist to help find vets jobs but, he added, “There's no real entry-level in the job market for many of these guys. Their skills don't mesh with the civilian world. We're trying to change that.”

Valero laid out his three-point program for aiding vets.

“We're going to provide housing, education and career options for long-term employment through self-employment through an entrepreneurial program,” he said. “We want them to be self-sufficient.”

Having experienced street life himself, Valero noted there are “a lot of reasons why you see homeless vets.” He added that one reason is that “They've been living on the streets for awhile and have lost their skill sets, or they communicate poorly or are self-conscious. The longer you're on the street — the harder it is to get back out.”

Valero chose to live out on the streets for a year because he knew, “If I wanted to do the talk, I would have to be willing to do the walk.”

Valero, Torio and other supporters recently opened a flagship storefront in La Jolla Village on Herschel Avenue.

On its website, VIP notes California is home to nearly 2 million veterans, more of whom are homeless than any other state. Roughly 25 percent of the nation's homeless veterans, approximately 14,464, live in California.

In 2013, the San Diego Region had 2,468 homeless veterans. Of that number in the City of San Diego, 798 were living in shelters and 688 were living on the streets.

Valero said much of the recent federal funding meant to help vets is “New money going to the same old programs. Nothing changes.”

Which is why he's developing a more proactive support system for veterans.

“You need to start thinking outside the box,” Valero said justifying his “one-stop shop” approach combining permanent shelter with job training and placement.

“The solution is to make them (vets) self-sufficient,” Valero said adding, “It has to be done community by community. It's the responsibility of each community to take care of that.

“We're going to help raise the funds to help solve this problem,” Valero concluded.

For more information, or to make a donation to the cause of housing vets and helping them acquire employment skills and job placement, visit www.vipunitedstates.org/about.html.
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