West L.A. Veterans Affairs Office Opens Parking Lot to Homeless Vets
There are an estimated 4,500 homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area and approximately half live and sleep in their cars.
A West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs office has partnered with a non-profit organization to provide parking stalls to homeless veterans living in their cars.
On Monday, Safe Parking Los Angeles partnered with the VA to provide designated parking areas for homeless veterans, reports SCPR. There are currently ten spots available and that number could expand if there is enough demand.
“We know the need is great. We have plans on this campus to build permanent housing, but we know that takes time. So what can we do in the meantime to make sure that we’re filling that gap?” said Heidi Marston with the Great Los Angeles VA.
The VA is currently working on a 388-acre campus near Brentwood, which was originally given to the federal government to be a home for aging and disabled veterans. Under a legal agreement, the agency must build 1,200 units of permanent housing for veterans on the land. So far, 54 apartments have opened and 110 more will be ready by early 2020.
There will be a security guard monitoring the parking lot and a portable bathroom with a handwashing station on-site from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week.
The security guards will work with the VA Police Department that currently patrols the campus.
A picnic area is also available for eating meals. While no food service is planned, the non-profit organization Village for Vets and Meals and Wheels brought snacks and breakfast to the veterans Monday night.
Participants are also encouraged to access medical services and connect with social and mental health services through the VA welcome center.
“When you’re sleeping in your car on the street, you don’t know who’s around you. You don’t know if you’re going to get a ticket or a fine,” said Marston.
Last year, the city established new restrictions on car camping, which ban people from living in their car in most residential areas between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Adam Halvorsen, a homeless veteran who has been living in his van for almost a year with his girlfriend, Angela Del Castillo, says the couple drives around constantly to avoid citations, safety risks and judgments.
“You can never fall all the way asleep,” Del Castillo said. “The words are hard to find, because it’s so hard. People don’t understand.”
On Monday, the couple spent the night in the secured parking lot.
“I would rather sleep in the car than be around anything that brings me down,” Halvorsen said. “The Safe Parking L.A. is something that I can get a good night’s sleep.”
“You don’t have that anxiety of someone knocking on the window and saying you gotta leave, or you’re in trouble or anything,” Del Castillo added. “It’s awesome.”
Rules and Regulations
In order to stay in the designated lot, veterans must fill out an application and are screened by either the VA or Safe Parking L.A. Weapons, drugs and alcohol are not allowed and the group can evict anyone who does not follow the rules.
The organization also runs all applicants’ names through a sex offender database but does not require a full criminal background check.
The program also has secured parking lots at an Episcopal church in Koreatown and a Methodist church in South L.A.
L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin says he hopes to expand the program beyond veterans. He also hopes to open more safe parking lots for the homeless over the next few months.
“They can rest easy tonight knowing they won’t be hassled or harassed. They’re going to be on a pathway to getting housed,” Bonin said.