A Safe Haven

El Monte Veterans Village is an oasis for homeless vets.

El Monte, Calif.—The homeless veterans epidemic is finally getting some of the media attention it deserves. But co-developers Mercy Housing California and New Directions for Veterans were ahead of the curve when it comes to anticipating the needs of this under served population. Working with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of El Monte and Los Angeles County, the developers commissioned TCA Architects for this pivotal project. El Monte Veterans Village is the first permanent supportive community for homeless veterans in the area. It opened February 2014.

The city of “El Monte is very supportive of its veterans,” Eric Olsen, principal at TCA Architects, told MHN. “El Monte Veterans Village is on a very fairly high volume street in an industrial area, but the project team was able to create an oasis that provides a very hospitable, friendly, homey environment.” The development provides affordable living near downtown areas, employment opportunities, parks, services, businesses, transit and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars facility.

El Monte Veterans Village addresses the growing rate of homelessness in a community that struggles with uniquely high rates of unemployment. TCA Architects’ objectives for El Monte Veterans Village were to design a community within a community that feels very safe for the veterans, while taking sustainability into account.

The veterans benefit by being able to come back to their community roots. They receive on-site services and affordable housing. All units are studio apartments. They are private and quiet.
At the same time residents are able to develop a sense of community. They can feel connected to the support services on-site as well as to their fellow veterans. Counseling and support services include job placement opportunities as well as placement for various medical and psychological support services including case management, health and wellness programs, benefits claims assistance, legal services, substance abuse recovery support and social and recreational activities.

“We were instructed to design this [to be] as livable and welcoming a home experience as possible, while still being a very economical building so that we could provide the most number of homes possible,” Olsen said. “Inside the units they’re very similar to market rate.”

The building is constructed in the Craftsman style, reminiscent of some of the historical architecture of El Monte. TCA Architects achieved the project’s eco-friendly features by implementing new wall insulation technologies that combine standard between-the-studs fiberglass fill with rigid over-the-wall insulation to eliminate any thermal bridging effects. Solar hot water generation, a high-albedo (“cool”) roof aided by a 12kW PV system that generates clean energy for the building operation—alongside LED and fluorescent lighting throughout the project—complement the low-energy package of the building.
“If this was a LEED project it would definitely be LEED Platinum,” added Olsen. It is expected to exceed California’s Title 24 Energy requirements by over 53 percent and is registered with the Enterprise Green Communities green rating system.
Exterior materials are stucco and prefinished fiber cement siding that will extend the life cycle and reduce maintenance. Renewable wood and forest-friendly manufactured I-joists were chosen over other more energy-intense systems.
A graywater irrigation system reduces the need for irrigation with potable water to a bare minimum for shrubs and groundcover, while indoor water use was drastically lowered with state-of-the art fixtures. Water use reduction is achieved indoors by using low-flow fixtures. Outdoor water use reduction will be accomplished by implementing a graywater irrigation system which has been designed to cover 100 percent of the irrigation demand. Only groundcover irrigation from potable sources will be provided. The rooftop solar water heating system provides most of the hot water used.
Along with the sustainable features of the development, the property includes an on-site composting facility to process yard waste. An edible garden, fruit tree orchards, and raised vegetable beds aim to re-connect residents to their food.