VC Star: Ending Veterans Homelessness in Ventura County Is Goal of Planned ‘Veterans’ Village’

By Mike Harris, VC Star Reporter

One of the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation’s many goals is a lofty one: to end veterans homelessness in Ventura County.

Toward that end, the Camarillo-based nonprofit is planning a 20-acre “Veterans Village” in unincorporated Oak View.

The complex will provide homeless vets with interim “bridge” housing such as huts and cabins in a camping environment – but not traditional apartments. It will also offer counseling, therapy and more to help get the vets back on their feet.

“What we’re after is healing and housing in tandem,” said Bob Harris, executive director of the foundation, a veterans assistance group founded in 2006. “The goal is long-term reintegration back into independence and permanent housing.”

Rafael Stoneman, the director of the foundation’s Mobile Veteran Outreach program and a former homeless vet himself, said the Veterans Village will be a “solution to a lack of affordable housing in our county for vets.

“And also, beyond that, it’s a therapeutic model so that veterans who live there have a sense of community and connection,” said Stoneman, who was instrumental in conceiving the Veterans Village.

The foundation will work with the Ventura County Continuum of Care Alliance, a group dedicated to ending homelessness in the county, to get the veterans housed at the Veterans Village complex permanently off the street, Harris said.

“An end to veteran homelessness in Ventura County!” the foundation’s literature about the project says.

Early Stages

The Veterans Village is in its early stages.

The foundation is in negotiations to buy a 20-acre ranch in Oak View for the complex, said Harris, the son of a veteran.

The nonprofit has had preliminary talks with county planning officials about the project, he said. To move forward, it needs county approval, he said.

A capital campaign will soon be launched to acquire the Oak View property, which could cost in the neighborhood of $4-$5 million, Harris said. The campaign would be on top of a $500,000 donation the project received from a 97-year-old veteran, Bill Mors, of Ojai, before he died in January, Harris said.

Number of Homeless Vets

Harris said that according to the last point-in-time homeless count in January 2020, there were about 88 veterans living on the street in the county.

A point-in-time count is a tally of homeless people on a single day.

“But that should not be used as the definitive number,” Harris said. “Realistically, on any given day, we think a truer number is that there are about 140, 150 homeless vets in the county with about 1,000 to 1,300 potential homeless.”

There are about 40,000 to 50,000 veterans in the county altogether, he said.

Camping Environment Housing

Many homeless veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder, can’t or don’t want to live in traditional four-wall housing such as apartments, Harris said.

That’s why the Veterans Village won’t include apartments.

“No,” Harris said. “Never. Those are PTSD triggers.”

The project will instead offer housing more conducive to a camping environment, he said.

“We may utilize tents, RVs, mobile homes, log cabins the veterans build themselves,” he said. “Any kind of organic structure that doesn’t trigger PTSD.

“We’re going for very much of a decompressing environment,” including a Center for Healing & Wellness and animal therapy, he said.

If the Veterans Village can be fully funded by private donors, the veterans there won’t have to pay for the interim housing, Harris said.

The complex will also include a service center with hands-on assistance to help the veterans file for Veterans Affairs benefits, disability claims, jobs and more, according to the foundation.

“We’re trying to finish solving homelessness for veterans in Ventura County.”Ron Greenwood, Co-Founder, Gold Coast Veterans Foundation

“We’re trying to finish solving homelessness for veterans in Ventura County,” said Ron Greenwood, co-founder, with his wife Lisa, of the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation.

“So, this is a big deal,” the Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient said. “We’re excited about it.”

Donations to the Veterans Village project may be made through the foundation’s website, gcvf.org.

Source: VC Star article from March 13, 2021