Scale of Homelessness Among L.A. County Veterans Underestimated: United Way Survey

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Eddie Hamilton lives out of his car near the VA hospital in Westwood. He described the scene there on Veterans Day 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

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The extent of homelessness among veterans in Los Angeles County has been greatly underestimated by the public, according to a survey published on Veterans Day.

The county has the largest veteran population in the country, and the nation’s largest group of homeless veterans, according to United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which published the survey Tuesday.

Some homeless vets live in the shadow of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Westwood.

“I find that on every corner in and around this hospital, there’s someone who’s homeless,” said Cpl. Eddie Hamilton, 67, a Vietnam vet who lives out of his car in the area.

“In the evenings, up and down this street, there are more veterans that are homeless than you can imagine. Some have drug problems, some have alcohol problems, and some are just mentally involved in problems that they brought back with them from the war,” Hamilton said.

“It’s a life. It’s existing. But it’s not what you would hope for.”

Some 4,618 veterans are homeless in the county, about 11.7 percent of the total homeless population, according to 2013 data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Despite the concentration of homeless veterans in Los Angeles County, survey respondents believed Houston and San Diego had higher numbers of homeless veterans. Those polled also thought a greater portion of L.A.’s homeless population resides in Skid Row than county data shows.

“While we have seen a marked increase in awareness of the homeless issue in L.A. County over the past several years, we were surprised to see that many residents still underestimate the scope of the issue," said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, in a statement. "Most surprising was the lack of awareness around veteran homelessness, with L.A. being the veteran homeless capital of the nation, as well as the assumption that the problem is somewhat localized to certain areas of L.A."

The survey questioned 791 L.A. residents 18 or older on Oct. 29 and 30, according to the United Way’s news release.

The advocacy organization has planned a 5K run/walk on Nov. 15 to raise money for homelessness. Laker Kobe Bryant will be participating in the HomeWalk event at Exposition Park.

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