Outside the eastern edge of the campus of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in West Los Angeles lie the interred remains of veterans who served their country. A couple of days before Memorial Day each year, Scouts place flags on each grave.
Just outside the opposite edge of the VA campus sits a homeless encampment. Its population ebbs and flows from day to day, but most of the time there are people living on the sidewalk in lean-tos ingeniously fashioned out of tarps and shopping carts, using the iron rails of the VA’s fence as a back wall, draped with towels and sheets. On a recent night, a man sat nestled in an upholstered easy chair, reading a book in the dark.
As encampments go, it’s relatively small — 10 people sometimes, two dozen at other times. On any given day, a little less than half are veterans. Outreach workers from the VA and nonprofit groups constantly interact with the group, and VA officials say they have been able to house about 40% of the veterans who have come through the encampment. Some have been persuaded to come into the campus Welcome Center for a shower, a snack or an overnight shelter bed. According to one advocate for homeless people, most have already been connected to service providers, and some just want a bus ticket back to a family home, wherever that may be.