VA secretary pledges to house hundreds of homeless veterans in LA by end of year

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has vowed to move more than 500 homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area into housing by the end of the year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will start by helping about 40 individuals living in an encampment known as "veterans row," outside the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. The department looks to get those veterans into housing by Nov. 1, according to McDonough's pledge made Wednesday during a press conference in Washington, D.C. 

"I think this is a question of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work and getting it done," said McDonough, who visited the encampment earlier this month and spoke to veterans living there.

"That's what I pledged to the veterans I spoke with on veterans row that day, and what the country expects us to do," he added.

On an average night, more than 37,250 veterans are estimated to be experiencing homelessness, making up about 8 percent of all homeless adults, according to Department of Housing and Urban Development data released in March.

The estimate stemmed from 2019 information and did not include the increases expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, which started in March 2020.

California experienced the largest increase in homeless veterans compared to any other state, with a 3.8 percent uptick. More than 3,680 veterans are facing homelessness in Los Angeles County alone, according to the report.

"Our efforts are continuing all across the country, but there are more homeless veterans in Los Angeles than anywhere in America," McDonough said. "As we solve the problem there, it will give momentum to our efforts across the country." 

McDonough's vow gives him a tight deadline as county officials have said they will clear veterans row by Nov. 1.

Following the announcement, California lawmakers, including House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), praised the effort.  

"I'm grateful that the Secretary took these conversations to heart and is following up with VA action when these veterans need it most," Takano said in a statement. "I know that together we can continue to tackle the biggest problems facing veterans in the LA area, including the monumental effort to end veteran homelessness." 

The VA for the past five years has been working on a plan to build hundreds of subsidized apartments for homeless veterans on the West Los Angeles VA campus, but a master plan has yet to be approved and the project is unlikely to be completed until well into 2022 or further out.