History of New Directions for Veterans
Founded by two formerly homeless Vietnam veterans and a local advocate for homeless persons, New Directions for Veterans initially operated out of a five-bedroom home serving eight homeless veterans. We now operate two transitional housing programs, a rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention program called Supportive Services for Veteran Families, a bridge housing program called the Accelerated Re-Housing Center, and six permanent supportive housing facilities in Los Angeles County, with additional projects in the pipeline.
John Keaveney served two tours of duty in Vietnam as an Army combat infantryman and left Vietnam in 1972 with a multi-use drug problem. For the next 11 years, he alternated between homelessness and incarceration until 1983, when he was court-committed to a Veterans Administration (VA) drug rehabilitation program called New Directions.
Larry Williams was 17 when joined the Army, and one year later he found himself in the middle of the Vietnam War. Witnessing the deaths of friends and enduring gruesome conditions and duties left Larry with deep emotional battle scars. For years, he was in and out of drug treatment programs and incarceration, a cycle that continued until 1986, when Larry entered the VA’s New Directions program.
Both John and Larry credit the VA’s program with saving their lives. So, when budget cuts closed the program in 1986, they, along with another veteran, saw the continuing need for its services.
In 1992, John, Larry and Toni Reinis, an advocate for the homeless who had served as Southern California Director of the California Homeless and Housing Coalition, established New Directions, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization named after the defunct VA program. That same year, the agency acquired its first property, a home that accommodated up to eight veterans. Clients could receive up to two years of housing, as well as clothing, substance abuse treatment, and job training.
Transitional Services Grow
Over the next two years, New Directions continued to grow. With the opening of Mitchell House in Mar Vista in 1994, the agency became the first social service agency in the country to provide temporary housing and services to homeless female veterans.
New Directions kept moving the bar higher. Invoking Title V of the McKinney Act, the agency petitioned the VA to lease a 60,000 square foot vacant building on the VA Greater Los Angeles campus. After years of congressional intervention, litigation and support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services, New Directions signed an unprecedented 50-year lease for Building 116 in 1995. The agency raised $5 million in capital funds from government entities, and numerous individuals, businesses and groups helped furnish and equip the 156-bed Veteran Opportunity Center (VOC).
Impressed by New Directions’ success in treating hundreds of veterans recovering from drugs and alcohol, the VA asked the agency to create a residential treatment center for veterans suffering from both substance abuse and chronic mental illness. In 2002, Veteran Opportunity Center North began housing and treating homeless veterans with co-occurring disorders. (In 2015, the agency relocated VOC North to Building 116 and renamed it VOC West.)
In 2007, the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund awarded New Directions a $2.75 million grant to launch Operation Welcome Home, a program designed specifically to assist veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) as they transition back to civilian life. Chris’ Place, a six-bedroom residence for recently returned OEF/OIF veterans, opened in the spring of 2008. (By 2013, the agency had outgrown the space and adapted its transitional program to better serve younger vets, so it sold the residence.)
In 2011 in partnership with the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program and the Los Angeles United Way’s Home for Good initiative, the agency launched its housing stability program, which offers homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing services for veteran families at risk of homelessness.
To underscore its mission and purpose, in 2013 the agency changed its name to New Directions for Veterans, added the tagline “Putting Veterans First Since 1992,” unveiled a new logo, and adopted the nickname NDVets. The new branding put a crisp emphasis on the agency’s identity but also stressed its experience and longevity in serving the veteran cause.
Permanent Supportive Housing and Bridge Housing
In 2013, NDVets launched the first of successive permanent supportive housing projects. New Directions Sepulveda, developed in partnership with A Community of Friends and the VA, houses 147 formerly homeless veterans. Two additional projects followed in 2014: El Monte Veterans Village, developed with Mercy Housing California, is San Gabriel Valley’s first supportive housing community exclusively for veterans; and Guy Gabaldon Apartments, developed with East LA Community Corporation, is located in Boyle Heights and serves senior veterans. In 2015, NDVets opened Veteran Village of Glendale in partnership with Thomas Safran & Associates and announced plans to begin construction in 2016 on South West View Apartments, a partnership with Palm Communities in the West Adams area of Los Angeles. The agency also provides services at the Burbank Veteran Bungalows, a project that opened in the Spring of 2016. Additional permanent supportive housing projects are in the pipeline.
NDVets also increased its bridge housing efforts in 2015 by opening the 20-bed Accelerated Re-Housing Center (ARC). ARC originated as a 10-bed pilot program offered by the VA as a bridge between homelessness and housing to provide assistance to veterans who need a safe place to stay while they await their VASH voucher and has grown to a 20-bed program.
More to Come
Since 1992, New Directions for Veterans has remained on the leading edge of developing innovative and effective strategies for serving our nation’s heroes. This overview of the agency’s history represents only some major milestones. NDVets’ real legacy and future are reflected in the success stories of the veterans we serve.