As its homeless residents are relocated, work was beginning Monday to clear out the Veterans Row encampment just outside the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles.
The encampment along San Vicente Boulevard, known for its tents draped with American flags, was home to dozens of veterans who have served in the Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and Gulf wars.
Veterans Row isn’t new. It grew during the pandemic and this year gained more attention after two homicides involving encampment residents were reported in less than six months.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough visited the encampment recently, calling the situation “unacceptable” and saying that all veterans from Veterans Row will be housed by November.
Early Monday morning, a large truck arrived at the encampment, helping the homeless veterans move their belongings into storage. Signs posted in the area had warned of an impending cleanup scheduled for Monday.
On Thursday, 15 homeless veterans from the encampment were moved onto the VA property, with another three agreeing to move Monday, according to Robert Reynolds, an with advocate with AMVETS.
Six more veterans said they will also leave the encampment, but had yet to relocate Monday morning, Reynolds said.
Some of the veterans will be temporarily moved just behind an adjacent fence, to another encampment.
That encampment is a government-run safe camping site on the VA’s campus, where residents are provided with cots, towels and other items that they may need until they can be moved into permanent housing.
Nonprofit U.S. VETS reported housing 13 veterans as of Monday morning, saying some of the veterans who were previously living on Veterans Row were moved into supportive housing at its Inglewood site, while others were placed into alternative temporary housing options.
Reynolds, a veteran advocate and formerly homeless Iraq War veteran, has been calling for housing the veterans for a long time.
“We set up new tents on the other side of the fence, the same ones that they have with American flags — so everyone’s got a location,” Reynolds said. “If they have any feelings about not going in the VA, we’re gonna get him a hotel voucher.”
The homeless veterans have faced several barriers to finding shelter, Reynolds said, pointing to the VA’s hours of operation as one example.
Veterans who show up at the VA facility outside admission hours won’t find immediate on-site shelter, he said.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “As you can imagine, when you have mental illness, someone shows up to get help, and they’re told to come back the following day, it just severs the trust, and then it’s that much harder to get them off the street once they’re already out here.”
Vietnam veteran Deavin Sesson, 65, was one of the people at Veterans Row Monday morning as residents were packing up.
“They want us off the street, I understand that … But we’re not hurting nobody out here … we clean up our own messes, we clean up our own trash,” Sesson said.
“We served our country didn’t we? We went to war. Every day, we go to war in our heads,” he said.
At last count, there were more than 3,900 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County, according to a Homeless Services Authority count done in 2020.