Could the West LA VA’s tent city be a model for bringing relief to LA’s unhoused?

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A government-run homeless encampment on the campus of the West LA VA in Brentwood hasn’t ended “Veterans Row,” a street encampment right outside the property’s gates. Photo by Anna Scott.

On one of the lawns at the West LA VA, there are rows of camping tents for veterans experiencing homelessness. It’s an alternative to sleeping on the sidewalk. The VA provides tents, bathrooms, meals, medical care, and social services.

KCRW reporter Anna Scott recently visited this site and found that for some, it’s a refuge. And now, some city officials are looking at starting their own government-run homeless encampments. Here are a few key questions about the possibility:

What is the West LA VA, and why is it operating a sanctioned encampment?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System campus in Brentwood is a 388-acre complex of medical offices, old buildings and open space, serving military veterans. Portions of the land are also leased to private and outside entities. Many veterans experiencing homelessness receive services there, and some camp on the sidewalks surrounding the property. 

In April, amid the pandemic, the VA turned one of its parking lots into a makeshift campground with 25 tents to allow homeless veterans to shelter in place. The program, which is called the Care, Treatment and Rehabilitative Services Initiative (CTRS), is specifically for health care-eligible veterans and provides hot meals, bathrooms, security, health care and social services. The idea is to provide a low barrier place to begin exiting homelessness.

Is it working?

According to a spokesperson for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, 220 veterans have participated in CTRS so far, and the vast majority have remained engaged in services. A little less than half (46%) have moved into transitional or temporary housing with case management. About 10% have been discharged to receive higher level medical care, while smaller numbers have left to live with family, entered a residential program on the campus or walked out with no notice. 

The VA is in the process of expanding CTRS. Over the past few months, it has grown from 25 to 50 tents, and now officials have made space for 100.

Could this be done in other parts of LA?

At least two LA City Councilmembers are actively exploring potential sites for service-connected, sanctioned campgrounds. Spokespeople for Mike Bonin, who represents much of the Westside and Venice, and Joe Buscaino, who represents San Pedro, told KCRW they are looking into it. 

Buscaino is specifically considering a parking lot on the campus of Los Angeles Harbor College, according to spokesman Branimir Kvartuc, but only if he can resume sanitation cleanups of nearby street encampments. 

A spokesman for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Alex Comisar, told KCRW in an email: “Sanctioned encampments are not the solution to homelessness, and they are far from ideal. But bringing people into areas with security and services is better than leaving them out on our sidewalks. We’re taking nothing off the table.”

Credits

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel

Reporter:
Anna Scott