There's a saying we used in the Marine Corps: "Marines never retreat, we only attack in a different direction."
I was reminded of that expression last week, after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that he would need to recalibrate his goal to end veterans' homelessness by the end of this year. To me, Mayor Garcetti's concession that this would take far longer to accomplish is a welcome acknowledgment of the complexity and scope of the problem.
L.A. County holds the dubious distinction of having the largest concentration of homeless vets in the country. Waging a battle against homelessness in this city, on behalf of those who served, is monumental, and cannot be won by slogans or pledges.
This battle is ground-fighting of the most extreme variety. This is a one-on-one, in the dirt, under the bridges, in the alleys strategy. There are no shortcuts, there is no nuclear option, and drones cannot help.
The missed deadline acknowledges the formidable task without admitting defeat. After all, between January and June, the city did manage to provide homes to 3,733 veterans, according to mayor spokesperson Connie Llanos.
Garcetti is wise to restate his intention to attack the problem, and to adopt a new strategy going forward.
In my work helping veterans over the last 20 years, I've seen how great the need is for dedicated, persistent men and women on our outreach teams, whose job is to overcome the enemy of poverty and despair. And I have seen the systemic hurdles they face.
Yes, we need more housing vouchers. But then there are the estimated 700 homeless men and women who do have housing vouchers and are still homeless because it can take up to 231 days for a veteran with a VASH voucher to move into permanent housing.
Yes, money is an issue - but so is spending. The VA has funds it hasn't spent effectively, and faces a huge hiring backlog, along with the generally wasteful and inefficient practices that have been discovered at the West Los Angeles VA.
Los Angeles has tremendous resources in its vast network of non-profits, all of which are working on this problem. The VA needs to step up--like General Patton's Speech to the Third Army, standing before a huge American flag--and demand that non-profits, cities, counties and the state all work together and lay out a strategy to help.
The winning strategy will be a combination of dogged determination, strategically deployed resources, selfless dedication to the solution, complete transparency, no finger pointing, and a chorus of leaders all falling into line without caring who gets the credit.
Rather than pick an arbitrary end date, let's focus on what is important - that we use every resource at our disposal to get every last veteran off the street as soon as we can.