There are 3,878 veterans who lack a “fixed, regular or adequate place to sleep” on any given night in Los Angeles County, according to the annual count of the homeless conducted in January. Like the rest of L.A. County’s homeless population, most of them live on streets and sidewalks while a smaller number find beds in shelters. About a dozen live in an encampment outside the gates of the VA’s campus in West L.A.
But although there was a grim rise in the overall number of homeless people in L.A. from 2018 to 2019 (up 12% in the county and 16% in the city), the number of homeless veterans stayed essentially flat, and that followed a substantial decline from 2017 to 2018. Taken together, that’s what passes for good news in the efforts to house homeless people in Los Angeles.
The fact that veteran homelessness in Los Angeles has mostly trended downward recently is a reflection of the enormous financial resources that the federal government has put into addressing the problem — mostly through an infusion of housing subsidies known as VASH vouchers — and the efforts by local city and county officials to encourage landlords to rent to veterans who hold those vouchers. This was all part of a national push that dates back to the Obama administration. In fact, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, homelessness among former service members has decreased by 46% across the nation since 2010 (compared with a 13.2% decrease in general homelessness).
Still, it is slow and difficult work. In L.A., more than 2,800 homeless veterans were housed last year. Yet their total numbers stayed flat. That’s because veterans are becoming homeless as fast as they’re being housed.