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Prop 41 Shows Bipartisan Effort to Support Veterans

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One of two statewide measures on the June 3 ballot, Proposition 41 -- the Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act of 2014 -- would redirect unused existing bonds approved by voters in 2008, and dedicate them to building and renovating affordable multi-family housing for homeless and low-income vets.

Prop 41 is one of those unusual measures where Democrats and Republicans reached across party lines and came together to ensure our veterans don't end up on the streets. Given that California has the highest number of homeless veterans in the nation, that bipartisan effort is something Eric Bauman -- vice chair of the California Democratic Party and chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party -- is quite proud of.

"With all the difficulties that we face today with the polarization of political parties, the fact that this was the one measure where everybody came together speaks highly of how important this issue is," Bauman says.

With only 13 percent of precincts reporting, Prop 41 has seen a steady flow of support -- about 65 percent of voters thus far have cast their ballots in favor of the measure. Bauman says he wouldn't be surprised if voters passed the measure by more than 75 percent.

Sarah Parvini: How do you explain this level of bipartisan support?

Eric Bauman: Everybody recognizes the problem of homelessness. Everybody recognizes that so many people who were in service who went to Iraq and Afghanistan, and before that Vietnam, ended up in circumstances that were beyond their control. We have some 46,000 soldiers and airmen and sailors who will be coming home in the next 18 or so months, as President [Barack] Obama brings the troops home. And many of them are going to come home without jobs, without homes and with limited services available to them. And for those without occupations or careers, many of them will become homeless or be at risk of being homeless. I think people get that and this is why this is such a uniting issue.

What does it mean for California if Prop 41 passes?

These soldiers who are coming home and who are at such great risk, they won't be forgotten. There will be resources available to help them. There will be transitional housing built for them, and long-term housing. And most importantly, this will be housing with services and that's really an important thing.

How does this affect Los Angeles, which is second only to New York City in terms of its homeless population, specifically?

In L.A., we've had this expanding level of homelessness. My office is in downtown, in the heart of Skid Row. You can just see the increase in the number of people on the streets in the last year or so. This will mean that there will be affordable housing for them. Let's be clear: Providing services along with housing is really essential because every bit of experience we have shows us that when homeless people or near-homeless people are paired up with services -- mental health services, job training, health care -- their ability to prosper and find their way back into our society improves dramatically.

There have been 27 veteran-related bond acts here in California since the 1920s. What sets this iteration of aid to veterans apart?

This is the first one where the money is directed at homeless and near-homeless veterans. Most of the ballot measures have been to enable soldiers returning home to buy houses to begin their lives in the next phase. But we have this ever-increasing problem where soldiers come home with no job and no place to go. So, what the money is being used for is different. And the money is set aside not just for government programs, but for private programs and public-private partnerships as well. It's designed to use every tool possible to make sure these veterans get housing and the services they need.

You mentioned that it's important to focus on the way in which Prop 41 will provide services to veterans as well -- not just housing. How do such services help with housing in the long run?

We know that people who are homeless -- you can get them a roof over their head, but if they're not getting medical care, if there are mental health issues like PTSD, if they're not getting supplemental services, they will inevitably end up on the street incapable of performing in society. It doesn't take much to get people back to good health and to support them so they feel better and make good choices and work through their issues. We just have to get those services to them. The best homeless programs always include those mental health services.

While there isn't organized opposition to Prop 41, some argue this type of bond disproportionately burdens the common taxpayer. What would you say in response?

Any man or woman who puts their life on the line and goes to war to protect America and our values is not a burden to our taxpayers; anyone who says that it's a burden should be ashamed of themselves. These are people who literally went into the war zone to keep America safe from the likes of Al-Qaeda, and that someone would say that taking care of them is a burden -- shame on them. They should feel terrible to say such a thing.

Why is this proposition important to you personally?

I go to downtown Los Angeles every day. I see hundreds of people on the street, living on the street, who served our country and don't deserve to live in squalor and in the filth or the street of a cardboard box. To me, this is the path to help provide for these people who were putting their lives on the line for me and my country. Anyone who is willing to take that risk deserves being taken care of.

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