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More room, more ability to help vets

Veterans First nonprofit moves into larger quarters in Santa Ana, with expanded dreams as well of providing more services to the homeless and in-need.

March 21, 2014|By Jill Cowan
  • Housing coordinator Cruz Rios III, center, explains to visitors one of the services the organization provides to military veterans during an open house at Veterans First in Santa Ana on Friday. (Kevin Chang/ Daily Pilot)
Housing coordinator Cruz Rios III, center, explains… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

For Deanne Tate, president and chief executive of Veterans First, the selling points of the Orange County nonprofit's new digs are many.

At about 9,300 square feet, the second-floor office suite in the heart of downtown Santa Ana has upwards of three times the space of the organization's previous headquarters, which Tate described as "an open pit" where it was difficult to carry on a productive conversation with the homeless and at-risk veterans who came in for services.

The organization, which was founded in 1971, had operated in a cramped office suite on Edinger Avenue for about six years.

Now, there's room for weekly yoga classes in a workshop room, and when volunteers from Healing Hands Wellness Center come by to give free massages, there's space for that too.

Kids can hang out in the children's lounge while their parents get help looking for jobs or transitional housing. Each of Tate's full-time staff members — many of them veterans themselves — has a place to sit, while Los Angeles-based partner organizations, such as 1736 Family Crisis Center and Volunteers of America, have office space to meet with clients when their representatives are in town.

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But one of the most exciting things about the new place has nothing to do with the extra breathing room, Tate said.

It's the fact that, one floor below, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System is set to open a community resources and referral center in a couple months, as part of a partnership with Veterans First, the county's only nonprofit working to provide a multitude of services to homeless veterans.

"It's really great to see," Tate said Wednesday, sitting in her corner office, still in a semi-unpacked state of disarray. "Everything's right here."

Together, Veterans First and Veterans Affairs will form a one-stop shop for struggling veterans, who would otherwise have to chase down services in locations spread around the county — a task that can be especially difficult without a reliable mode of transportation.

If a homeless veteran comes into Veterans First, for example, staffers there may be able to help him or her move into one of the organization's housing programs, while downstairs, the VA could help provide mental health services.

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