Step Up community partner Village for Vets is a dedicated nonprofit organization that fills gaps in critical services for homeless and at-risk veterans in greater Los Angeles. The non-profit offers four types of services to veterans: meals, emergency financial assistance, social support and basic needs. All Village for Vets programs are on the West LA VA campus or in association with programs who can help veterans enroll in additional services. This year, Village for Vets has been raising funds to purchase Welcome Home kits with all the kitchen, bath and bedroom essentials for veterans moving into Step Up permanent supportive housing. During the pandemic, Village for Vets has also partnered with Step Up’s VASH (Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing) teams to provide prepared meals to Building 209 and non-perishable food boxes to the veterans experiencing food insecurity in Step Up’s tenant based program.
Village for Vets was founded in 2016 by President Marcie Polier Swartz who is incredibly passionate about supporting veterans,“My brother was a Navy veteran and my uncle and father made their living as owners of a military supply store.” In its past four years, the Village for Vets Emergency Fund has provided short-term financial assistance to veterans experiencing temporary financial hardship that impacts their housing, employment, or health. Village for Vets has given almost 150 veterans grants of $1,000 or more since May 2019. Applications and referrals for emergency grants have quadrupled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Marcie understands all too well the challenges for veterans returning from duty and knows they may need extra assistance with accessing critical services at the VA, “My brother was diagnosed with a mental illness after he was discharged from the Navy. I was his advocate for years. He has been stable for years as a result of care he got at the VA in West Los Angeles.”
This past week, Village for Vets Director Mary McGuire and Administrative Coordinator Cathy Valentino visited Step Up’s new South LA location for veterans, due to open soon with 35 units. They eagerly unpacked one of the Welcome Home Kits they donated for the veterans. Like Marcie, Mary McGuire is a big veteran supporter. “Both Marcie and I come from military families. My father was career army, so I grew up on military bases. I’ve always had an appreciation for military and for veterans. Working with veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness is very important to me.” Mary has been organizing the Welcome Home Kit donations alongside Village for Vets volunteers and donors in 2020 who have generously committed to providing this critical support to Step Up veterans. In addition to the 35 Welcome Home Kits for the South LA location, Village for Vets is continuing to raise funds for two future Step Up veterans’ building openings in 2021. In total, Step Up’s Veterans Housing Partnership will be adding 322 more housing units for veterans experiencing homelessness with five veteran co-developments currently in different stages of construction in South Central Los Angeles, Downtown Los Angeles and on the West Los Angeles VA Campus.
Village for Vets and the Step Up VASH team meet regularly through the bi-monthly Veterans’ Engagement Working Group at the West LA VA Campus, where many local organizations collaborate to make sure all veteran needs are met. To address veteran food insecurity, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Village for Vets has been providing 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, in partnership with Brentwood School and UCLA, to veterans at the Care, Treatment and Rehabilitation (CTRS) tent area on the West LA VA campus. The VA created the CTRS area as a way to provide a safe, socially distanced space for homeless Veterans living on the streets. Village for Vets continues to serve 1,000 meals a week through various programs across the city, including food box deliveries to veterans in supportive housing including around 180 Step Up veterans.
Village for Vets runs and supports a variety of events and programs to help combat isolation and provide access to services and benefits. They are the Co-Chair of the Annual Veteran Stand Down event, bringing veterans in need to the VA campus for showers, haircuts, housing, registration for housing, healthcare, legal services, and fresh hot meals. More than 1,500 veterans, staff, and volunteers participate each year.
You can learn more about Village for Vets HERE