LOS ANGELES — Teams of Department of Veterans Affairs employees, wearing reflective vests and carrying flashlights, assembled at each corner of the VA campus in West Los Angeles on Wednesday night with the mission to find and count every homeless veteran within the 388-acre site.
Dressed in coats, gloves and hats on what was an abnormally cold night for Southern California, about 50 people trekked through wooded areas, parking lots and along stretches of grass abutting Interstate 405. The teams dodged holes left in the dirt by ground squirrels and gophers as they searched crevices between buildings and behind heating and air-conditioning units. It was their responsibility to lay eyes on every square foot of their zone, looking for tents or other makeshift dwellings where veterans could be.
One group of seven logged nine veterans. They were assigned to the south side of campus surrounding the main hospital, and all the veterans in their zone were staying inside their vehicles in a “safe parking” lot, where they’re allowed to sleep overnight and are provided restrooms and security. Los Angeles County estimates roughly 15,700 people — about 25% of the area’s homeless population — sleep in their vehicles nightly. Safe Parking LA operates nine lots in the greater Los Angeles area, including one on the VA campus. About 220 people stay on their lots every night.