BRENTWOOD (CBSLA) — A large homeless encampment, better known as "Veterans Row," located outside the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Brentwood, was in the process of being cleared out Monday.
The L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), along with several community groups, has been working on a transition and relocation program for those homeless veterans who live in the encampment, located along San Vincent Boulevard.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department and L.A. Public Works Department began clearing the sidewalk at around 8 a.m. Monday.
Clearing the encampment was not solely about housing, but also about safety. In the last six months, there have been two homicides in the encampment. The goal was to avoid a repeat of the violent clashes when an encampment in Echo Park was cleared out back in March. So far Monday, the process was going along smoothly.
"We're happy about it," Navy veteran Scott Baty told CBSLA Monday. "Get out of here and get somewhere safe. I was assaulted maybe eight times out here. Slugged in the face, knocked out, it hasn't been fun."
Baty is not moving far. He's moving into a tent just to the other side of the fence on the VA's campus, where he will have access to food, showers and services.
"I'm happy to get inside of there, and then my social worker has lined up an apartment for me down the street," Baty said. "So if that goes through, then I'll be leaving there immediately and going into my apartment."
Baty is not complaining about how long it took for him to finally get on the path to permanent housing. However, some community activists who have been helping him say allowing homeless veterans to set up tents on their property is the least the VA can do.
"It's three times the size of Disneyland, and it gets a lot of funding, as we all know," said Sennett Devermont with the Always for the People Foundation. "So how is it possible we have homeless veterans dying in the street?"
The veterans group AMVETS has worked for months to get private donations for the tents that are part of the shelter on the VA's property. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility was unable to provide many of its services.
"We get into a position where people show up in the evening or they don't get processed in time. Then, they end up on the sidewalks," said Rob Reynolds with AMVETS. "The focus has been to not rush the process."
LAHSA spokesperson Amy Perkins said most of the veterans are being moved into motels, with some going into tents or directly into permanent housing.
"We have been working diligently to get each one of them housed," said Darryl Joseph with VA Community Engagement and Reintegration Service. "Each one has a different set of needs, and so it's taken a little bit of time."
LASD, which has jurisdiction over the sidewalk, sent deputies who are military veterans to help with the transition.
"Having the veteran deputies connect with the veterans, who have walked the walk, and served in the manner that they did, it helped them connect in a place of trust," LASD Lt. Geff Deedrick said.
"Last man out here, it's fine," Iraq War veteran Lavan Johnson, who has been living in the encampment, said Sunday.
For Johnson, who said his piano saved his life, the plan is to move into a building where the piano will be safely stored, as he transitions with his friends to the other side of the VA's fence.
"I know for a fact, I have faith in knowing that everything is going to be okay," Johnson said.
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