Having Walked in Their Shoes, Once Homeless Advocate Enjoys Supporting Peers

Babs LudikhuizeBabs Ludikhuize wants to be an ambassador for something better.

The Air Force veteran is one of two women living among 59 homes The Veterans Collective (TVC)—a partnership among Century Housing, Thomas Safran & Associates and U.S.VETS —opened in 2023 as housing for homeless and at-risk senior Veterans, part of extensive construction and renovation envisioned in a master plan on the West Los Angeles VA north campus.

U.S.VETS and Veterans Affairs work together to provide service-enriched housing on the campus, including resident intake, case management, behavioral health and substance abuse counseling, access to nutritious food, transportation, career services, and wellness activities.

Ludikhuize, 62, has been navigating a web of services through VA hospitals and service centers to some extent since the 1990s. Few topics are off limits to Ludikhuize, who was an 18-year-old high school graduate from Redlands when she joined the Air Force in 1979 and was stationed at the former George Air Force Base in Victorville.

At a young age, she tinkered with car engines and was fascinated by the mechanics of vintage vehicles. She spent her time in the Air Force learning to drive heavy trucks and shuttling supplies around the high desert. In the decades since, she’s been homeless, abused speed, struggled with mental health, and survived violence that left her with severe injuries.

“I’m thankful that I have a place to call my own now,” says Ludikhuize, who has two grown daughters and four grandchildren. “I’ve been homeless. I’m finally able to start bringing my stuff back, things that are important to me, from my children, that were stashed in different places all around Southern California.”

She tracks Veterans Affairs officials who may be able to help her. She talks about a “snitch line” to VA offices in Washington, D.C., that she’s contacted over the years to advocate for housing or benefits. “I fight. I complain,” she says. “I’ve struggled and I’ve come out on the other side.”

In spite of her own traumas, she says she’s focused on helping other Veterans find healing. Most nights, she walks down the hill from her building to the domiciliary, the “DOM,” to run or attend meetings of substance misuse support groups. “It’s a safe place,” she says.

Her ongoing VA doctor appointments are within about a one mile walk across campus from her home in Building 207. She recently purchased an e-bike to get around faster but is still mastering its controls. A centrally located store a couple of blocks away provides a place to buy food to cook in her apartment, and she’s looking forward to future openings in a town center complex near her building, to include a barber and hair salon and meeting spaces.

She’s working on reclaiming a role on the West LA campus similar to one she once held as a VA peer support specialist at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Loma Linda. In Loma Linda, she also served at one time as chair of the hospital’s Veterans Mental Health Advisory Council. She says she supported Veterans with severe mental illness over many years at the hospital until 2022 when she lost a mobile home she lived in. That’s when VA staff helped connect her to Los Angeles for a fresh start.

She says she sees the need for a stronger, positive peer presence on the West LA campus, to help veterans around her who continue to struggle. On Aug. 1, she says she will hit one year of sobriety. It’s a journey in progress. Ludikhuize knows almost everyone around her new home by name, residents and staff, and talks about her plans to start a community advisory council to advocate for Veterans.