A “veteran tent city” has popped up on the outskirts of VA land meant for housing “disabled soldiers” in Los Angeles and people are angry.
The story goes like this:
Way back in 1887, a 388-acre parcel of land in Los Angeles, California was deeded to the federal government as a home for disabled soldiers. For a while, these soldiers turned the site into its own fully-functioning town – that is until VA officials opened up the land to commercial and unrelated non-profit use, reported LA Mag.
“This was a fully functional city within the county of Los Angeles,” Carolina Winston Barrie, the great-great-niece of the socialite who donated the land, said in a 2012 interview with NPR.
“It had everything—a post office, the trolley station… 150 acres under cultivation. Orange trees all over the place. You can’t see an orange tree anymore.”
In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the VA had misused the donated land by allowing non-veteran related tenants to use it – including a laundry facility for Marriott Hotels, a production set storage for 20th Century Fox, a local soccer club, and even a private school’s 20-acre athletic complex – but even years after the ruling, not much has changed.
In 2018, a federal audit uncovered that more than 60% of the donated land’s land-use agreements were “illegal or improper.” These improper uses included a dog park, Red Cross offices, a Shakespeare festival, and a parrot sanctuary. Later that same year, the owner of a parking lot built on the property pleaded guilty to bribing an official at the VA with almost $300,000 in exchange for $11 million in unreported revenues from the parking lot.
Now, even in 2020, the VA has not done much to utilize the land to benefit veterans as it was intended to be used. That’s why more than 30 tents have been set up by homeless veterans along San Vicente Boulevard in front of the West LA Veterans Administration campus, forming what people are now calling “Veterans Row.”
Unlike Skid Row and other “tent cities,” Veteran’s Row is pristine with well kept tents, prominent American Flags, a rotating chore list including things like sweeping, taking out trash, and keeping watch, and even a chain of command.
“We call it Veterans Row to get rid of the Skid Row stigma,” says Rob Reynolds, a formerly homeless veteran who now advocates for other veterans struggling with housing issues.
“It just goes to show that if they were given the tools in the first place—a place to stay, somewhere to get stable, dumpsters, all that—they can clean up and take care of themselves. They’re running it like a patrol base in Iraq.”
Veterans Row began when conservative activist group Judicial Watch donated a large number of tents to the West LA VA. VA officials rejected the donation due to the size of the tents, but homeless veterans are not quite as picky, and so they put the tents to use themselves.
Reynolds says that the tent city is proof that the VA is not doing enough to help struggling veterans get off the streets, which is why he and other veterans currently residing in Veteran’s Row are doing all the outreach they can to help other homeless veterans get the help they need.
“It’s forcing the VA’s hand to do its job, because now that we’re bringing them here and passing them the paperwork, you don’t have a choice, you have to start doing something,” he says. “And it’s about time, because this is just ridiculous that it went on this long.”
“All of that land is just sitting there,” says Reginald Smith, a Marine Corps veteran. “Every day, 22 veterans die because of homelessness, mental health issues. The costs are big.”
When asked to comment on the issue, a VA spokesperson pointed out the recently sanctioned, 50-tent city that sits inside the West LA VA campus, but did not comment on “Veterans Row,” which sits just outside VA land.