In an effort to reverse a worrisome increase in veterans experiencing homelessness, Veterans Affairs officials are vowing to find stable housing for more than 500 veterans living in the Los Angeles area by the end of the year, starting with those stuck on the infamous “Veterans Row” on the city’s west side.
“You run across these phrases in the English language that shouldn’t really exist, and one of those is ‘veterans homelessness,’” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “It’s outrageous. And while I’m here I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get them help.”
McDonough’s vow comes a week after he visited California to survey VA sites in Los Angeles and meet with homeless veterans living in the area.
“Veterans Row” sits just outside the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, with several dozen veterans camped in tents and makeshift shelters. The location has long been a source of concern and frustration for advocates looking for ways to provide help to distressed veterans.
McDonough said he spoke to several individuals living there during his visit, including one man who was able to get a hotel room and support services after a short conversation with department staff.
The secretary said he hopes to get all of the individuals there more stable housing by the end of the month. County officials have said they intend to clean out the site by Nov. 1.
In March, officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development released their estimates of homelessness in America in 2019, showing that on an average night more than 37,000 veterans are without permanent, safe shelter.
That number was up from 2018 and did not include expected increases resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which began in March 2020.
In Los Angeles alone, researchers estimated there were nearly 3,700 veterans facing homelessness. While numerous major cities and states have seen sharp decreases in homelessness in recent years, the problem in Los Angeles has remained steady.
“Over a third of the homeless veterans across the nation reside within California, with Los Angeles at the epicenter of the challenge,” said Kathryn Monet, CEO of the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans.
“VA must continue to move quickly to adapt underutilized space on [department] campuses to better serve homeless and other vulnerable populations of veterans, with the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System as a model.”
In a statement, members of Congress from California praised the VA announcement. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif. — whose request prompted last week’s trip to Los Angeles — said the move is desperately needed.
“I’m grateful that the Secretary took the conversations [with homeless vets in the area] to heart and is following up with VA action when these veterans need it most,” he said. “I know that together we can continue to tackle the biggest problems facing veterans in the Los Angeles area, including the monumental effort to end veteran homelessness.”
VA officials are still working on a plan to build hundreds of apartments for homeless veterans on the sprawling West LA VA campus. Planning for that effort has lingered for several years, and is not expected to be completed until early 2022.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.