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A Place to Call Home

A formerly homeless veteran in Los Angeles describes how an affordable housing complex like one Kaiser Permanente is investing in changed his life

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People may become homeless for many reasons, from a traumatic event, unemployment, or poverty, to the lack of needed health care. For military veteran Michael Nagar, homelessness became reality following the sudden onset of a potentially life-threatening health condition that upended his world.  

After completing 13 years of service mainly overseas in the United States Marine Corps, Nagar eagerly headed to Los Angeles for a new civilian job. However, Nagar’s arrival in California quickly spiraled downward. Over the next year, complications from an unexpected bone cancer diagnosis led to 6 surgeries and recuperative care, as well as cancer treatment, in a L.A. hospital.

Nagar became well enough to leave the hospital and continue his cancer treatment at a local community clinic. Yet, without a job or residence, he faced another major challenge. Confused and worried, he joined the tens of thousands of individuals and families living on the streets of L.A. – a city with among the highest homelessness rates and least affordable housing in California, especially for veterans.

Despite a common stereotype that homeless people are alcoholics or drug abusers, Nagar said he neither drank alcohol nor used drugs. Describing his coping style, he said, “No matter how hard life gets, I keep a positive attitude about the future and a smile. I focus on how I can give a helping hand.”

A welcome turning point

A promising turn of events occurred when a Los Angeles County Department of Health Services referral connected Nagar to L.A. Family Housing – a nonprofit organization that helps people transition out of homelessness and poverty through housing and comprehensive, on-site support services to help them build healthier lives. Soon Nagar was able to call home the Crest Apartments in Van Nuys, ending his 18-month stint of homelessness. Skid Row Housing Trust developed the permanent supportive housing and L.A. Family Housing operates the services and provides case management.

Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Enterprise Community Loan Fund and L.A. Family Housing to create a similar development in the North Hills area of the San Fernando Valley. The project is part of an innovative impact investing strategy to reduce homelessness and boost affordable housing to improve quality of life and community health. Located in one of the many communities where Kaiser Permanente provides health care services, the Angel Apartments project will transform unused commercial space into 53 units of permanent supportive housing for those who need a home most, including chronically homeless veterans.

“People who struggle with severe housing costs or are homeless are at much higher risk for acute and chronic illnesses and mental health issues, and often experience longer hospital stays, shorter lifespans, and other negative health outcomes. By promoting more affordable and supportive housing, we are trying to make communities healthier places and promote the health of the people who live there.” 

-- John Yamamoto, vice president, Community Health and Government Relations, Kaiser Permanente Southern California

Nagar said he and others appreciate the efforts to place homeless individuals in housing. After spending their military careers assisting others and saving lives, many veterans find it difficult to ask for help, he said.

"Given their service to our country, the least we can do for our veterans is provide them a place to call home," said Nury Martinez, L.A. city councilwoman and city council president pro tempore. "We rely on partners, such as Kaiser Permanente, to turn those dreams into reality. I thank them for their collaboration, and I look forward to seeing the Angel Project move forward to the next phase."

‘Never give up’

A stable home has been critical to enabling Nagar to continue improving his health and life: “It helped give me another chance, and I wanted to make the most of it.”

Now cancer-free, Nagar recently completed an Entrepreneurship Program at Pepperdine University, and plans to open his own art studio and offer art classes to the community. His colorfully detailed paintings have caught the attention of a large retailer, as well as professional skateboarders, some of whose skateboards he has custom designed.

“Veterans are not broken heroes – they have skills and training that make them vital members of our community,” said Kris Freed, chief of programs, L.A. Family Housing.

Grateful for those who have assisted him, Nagar enjoys giving back. He teaches art and cooking classes for youth and adults at the affordable housing complex where he lives and at nearby nonprofit organizations. He often donates what little he charges to the American Cancer Society. 

“When I was homeless, all I wanted was to be one with the community – and not by myself,” Nagar said. “Never give up.”