Homeless veterans who live in their cars now have access to 10 safe parking spaces at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs West Los Angeles campus.
This is a first step in the VA’s larger initiative to address homelessness, which includes the construction of 110 housing units by 2020 and 1,200 total units to be built on the VA’s West LA campus.
The program is located in a parking lot on the VA campus and includes a portable bathroom, a hand-washing station and security services. The West LA Veteran Affairs campus is the third location to provide secure overnight parking for homeless individuals in Los Angeles.
To use the service, veterans must fill out an application and have their name reviewed in a sex offender database. Weapons, drugs and alcohol are not permitted when they are using the service. Patrons are encouraged to access the medical, social and mental health services provided by the VA at its West LA campus.
Experts at UCLA said they think the VA’s safe parking program is helpful, but more significant action will be required to address the overwhelming veteran homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.
Mark Kaplan, professor of social welfare at UCLA, said he thinks the program is helpful because it gives homeless veterans a secure space to sleep, but added the VA needs to focus on more programs to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
“People don’t spontaneously appear on the streets homeless. There are reasons, there are trajectories that people take,” he said. “Maybe we need to do a better job understanding what that trajectory is like.”
Kaplan added that increasing coordination between the VA and the Department of Defense has been helpful in easing issues with transitioning out of the military. In the past, a lack of coordination between the administrations exacerbated issues in transitioning to civilian life, he said.
Joan Ling, a lecturer in urban planning at UCLA, said the VA is in an advantageous position to address homelessness because it does not have to deal with the same regulations or permitting systems that other locations in LA must address. For example, other locations in LA must comply with regulations for types of mobile housing permitted in parking lots.
“The VA is in a unique position to allow (a safe parking program) to happen relatively quickly because it’s on federal land. There are no permits or anything required to make this happen,” she said. “Legally, they are the masters of their own universe.”
John Maldonado, program coordinator for the UCLA Veteran Resource Center, said the center supports the safe parking program because its members think it will help support homeless veterans. He added members have been engaging with the community on how to further address veteran homelessness.
Representatives from the center recently attended a meeting at the VA regarding the construction of supportive housing on the VA campus, Maldonado said.
The center is also hosting an event, “Knowing the Los Angeles Veteran,” on May 2 to discuss services at UCLA for veterans and feature veterans speaking about their experiences in Los Angeles.