Gregory Scott has a calling. As CEO of the New Directions for Veterans his calling is making a difference in other people’s lives.
From his office in building #116, New Directions for Veterans, which provides services to both men and women homeless veterans, shares spaces on the almost 400 acres of Veterans Administration land in Brentwood, in West LA.
“Our goal is to serve every veteran who needs our help receives our assistance. We want to serve those who served us,” says Scott. He adds no veteran should have to “fight for this country then return and fight for a job, housing, or food.”
Veterans have so much to deal with when they come back from serving this country.
Los Angeles has the largest population of homeless military veterans in the nation. The V.A. estimates that more than 8,000 homeless veterans live on Los Angeles streets, accounting for eleven percent (11%) of all homeless veterans nationwide. Many of these men and women suffer from co-occurring disorders, including substance abuse, mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as chronic medical problems.
Veterans programs are now facing the fallout from a revision in the nation’s military policy, principally the shift to female soldiers. The number of homeless female veterans is also growing, with fewer resources to support them and a shortage of programs tailored to the needs of female veterans.
According to Scott, New Directions provides many services, including transitional housing, food, more importantly a programming model that prepares a veteran for workplace development. Incorporated within these curriculums are counseling for substance abuse and mental health challenges. Many female veterans are dealing with military sexual abuse trauma.
“Ultimately we wrap a great number of services around each veteran,” says Scott. “We even assist with legal and family reunification issues.”
Women veterans, like men, may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, some because of the trauma of sexual assault. They may return home and find that family support has gone astray. Still they may have returned to jobs that no longer exist.
More women have served in our latest war than at anytime in history therefore preparing to assist them, especially those with children, needs to be a high priority.
Jonathan Roberto, 31, was court appointed to New Directions after being convicted for 2nd degree burglary and drug crimes.
“I realized that this program is what I always needed. My life was sliding downward after leaving the Navy,” Roberto recalls. “New directions completely changed my whole life.”
Roberto served as a yeoman on the USS Pennsylvania, an Ohio class submarine from 2000 to 2002.
He says, “This is a place where veterans can come together and assist one another and to be the brothers and sisters we are. It’s a life changer.”
As resources evolve having a home should not but is a sometime a harsh reality. As each generation of veterans returning home with the sometimes-undetectable wounds of war, a transition home could be quite a benefit.
In 2008 California voters approved Proposition 12, authorizing a $900-million bond issue to help military veterans buy homes and farms. Bond proceeds are used by the state Department of Veterans Affairs called CalVet to purchase farms, houses and mobile homes that are then resold to California veterans.
On September 27th New Directions for Veterans along with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, A Community of Friends opened a 147-unit, Studio apartments housing project in North Hills on the Sepulveda campus of the VA. This will house homeless and disabled veterans in its permanent supportive housing developments.
New Directions has 88 staff members and a $7 million annual budget, of which 65% federal and 35% privately funded.
Scott touts his career is built around the non-profit world.
“I have always wanted to give back and help disenfranchised communities because I was born and raised in that environment, the housing projects,” he recalls.
On October 2011, Scott succeeded Toni Reinis, the program’s retired co-founder and executive director.
Scott is not a veteran. His dad served in the army during the Korean War and was an alcoholic for 30 years who often spoke about suicide. Although he died from cancer in 2007, Scott wondered if his quality of life would have been better if we as a community would have been more informed about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Born and raised in Paterson NJ. Scott is a disciple of Joe Clark, Eastside High School, the subject of the 1989 film Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman.
He describes himself as leader, family man, and a man of faith who wants to see other people succeed. “Those characteristics define me and I’m still evolving,” according Scott. “I am a visionary charismatic leader.”
As the face of the organization he realizes the number of returning vets is still high, and projects some 20 thousand veterans could possibly return to Southern California from the Iraq and Afghanistan war.
He exclaimed, “they’re different, their families are different and the country is different. The economic environment will also be an obstacle too. Unfortunately this may lead to homelessness. We must be creative in how to address these problems.”