Veterans Row' homeless settle into new VA tent city digs, but problems persist

November 18, 2021 10:13 AM By Tori Richards

Two dozen homeless veterans who moved from a sidewalk to the adjoining property of the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus are off to a rocky start as they adjust to new surroundings. The veterans endured drug abuse, beatings, and near-death incidents during the past year on the sidewalk bordering the West Los Angeles Veteran Affairs campus. The encampment was dubbed “Veterans Row.” Now, after moving into a tent city on VA property two weeks ago, the group is adjusting to standards they say are draconian. “I do not like it here in these tents. We have no power,” said Deavin Sesson, 55, an Army veteran. “We have two outlets on a power pole. You can’t bring any furniture, nothing. All I have is a cot and air mattress and a crate I use for a desk. And they won’t let us have coffee.” Other complaints include getting searched by guards when the veterans return from leaving the campus, being told to stop accepting outside donations, and not being allowed visitors at their homes, which are new tents on a newly paved strip in a grassy field. A veteran sits outside his tent on the campus of the West LA Veterans Affairs facility. He was formerly living on a neighboring sidewalk. (Photo courtesy of Rob Reynolds) But there is no denying that the veterans are better off than sleeping on San Vicente Boulevard, the main drag through the celebrity haven of Brentwood where Porsches and Lamborghinis race through at freeway speeds. At least two cars crashed into the encampment, including one that killed a veteran and injured another, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Drugs were rampant on the street along with violence. Only veterans who could peacefully live together in the group were moved to the VA, while several others who needed more intense therapy were admitted to treatment centers. “If you don’t have safety and security, you have nothing,” said Lt. Geoffrey Deedrick, who supervised a team of deputies tasked with disbanding the homeless camp. The sheriff’s homeless outreach team visited "Veterans Row" 24 times over a span of three months to convince the resistant residents that they should leave their filthy camp. “They are now going to start to thrive,” Deedrick said. “The moment they come in [to the VA], they are safe and not worried about being robbed in the middle of the night or having a car crash into their tent.”

The veterans receive three meals a day, visits from clergy, and access to VA benefits such as counseling and medical treatment. Still, several veterans told the Washington Examiner that the environment is stifling and that they think the staff treats them like children. “The agreement was we were going to move inside without any excessive grief for them and we were going to be treated with respect,” said former Army medic Gembob Brookhyser, 52. “I don’t want to be wanded and searched every time I get back. They are being invasive and treating us like we are 3.”


Homeless tents on Veterans Row outside the West Los Angeles VA facility. (Courtesy of Rob Reynolds)

Brookhyser said he was visiting with Republican House candidate Melissa Toomim when VA staff told him he wasn’t allowed visitors and called VA police to escort Toomim off the property. Toomim confirmed this to the Washington Examiner. “They are told not to have visitors,” said Rob Reynolds, a volunteer who assisted the Sheriff’s Department with the transition and is a mediator between the veterans and the VA. “I understand rules and things like that, but there is no reason for it to be unpleasant. My whole goal is to get everybody on the same page and make it therapeutic and a good environment here.” One of the people who has benefited is Scott Baty, a 76-year-old Vietnam War veteran. He was assaulted 11 times by fellow residents on "Veterans Row." Now, he has the last tent in the row where he can have peace and quiet with “nothing but the stars and moon and no cars going by at 200 miles per hour,” he said. He has had medical appointments to get new glasses, hearing aids, and dentures. The security guards make him feel safe. But there’s one thing he can’t change in his current environment while he waits for an opening in permanent housing. “It’s cold. You freeze your butt off. I have six blankets,” he said. “There are no heaters.”