Two days before the upcoming move and Lavon Johnson hadn’t packed yet.
But a war veteran in Iraq didn’t look too worried as he sat at the piano, rescuing him from trash two blocks away. He began playing Beethoven’s “Für Elise” along San Vicente Boulevard near Brentwood. His American flag, held on one side by a hanger attached to his tent, fluttered in the wind.
Johnson planned to be the last to step out Veterans Row camp, where he has lived for about a year. His way of ensuring that nearly two dozen of the remaining veterans who were not accommodated left safely before the scheduled cleanup on Monday.
“It never takes long to get ready,” the 35-year-old said with a quick smile.
A camp adjacent to historic campus for veterans in west Los Angeles, has become a focal point of homelessness in the city as mayoral candidates have attended regularly over the past year. The the last census of the homeless in Los Angeles County found about 3,900 homeless veterans among a total of 66,000 people in the homeless county.
Secretary for Veterans Denis McDonough, who visited the camp in October, said last week that about 40 veterans from Veterans Row will be housed by November.
By Saturday, 14 people had moved from the sidewalk to tents on the spacious VA campus, said Robert Reynolds, a veteran advocate for AMVETS. Three more have applied to enter but have not yet moved.
Reynolds attributed the movement to media attention, a visit to McDonough and two deaths related to Veterans Row.
“It’s very frustrating that it took so long,” said Reynolds, a military veteran. “This whole thing is a bear service to veterans and the taxpayer community because these guys are supposed to benefit. This property is meant for them. They should be housed here. There is no reason to be everywhere on the streets. “
All Johnson knew through his life was the military.
Johnson, born in Germany to parents in the military, enrolled in the same branch in June 2004. It was installed in Ft. Hood and posted to Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
If you ask him when and how he came to California, he will tell you he doesn’t remember. But he can remember what has happened since he was here. Especially the year he spent at Veterans Row camp.
“Like they sent me here,” Johnson said as he watched the 20 remaining tents along the sidewalk.
Asked why he thought it took so long to get the help of veterans, Johnson quickly replied, “Pride. money. No one wants to admit that a mistake was made. “
Around 11 a.m., Johnson rode his bike past the tents and pulled his head to check with some veterans. He passed more than a dozen flags and a few signs informing everyone about the planned cleanup.
For those on this line, Johnson is considered a protector. He often sleeps at night to make sure everyone is safe. The hazard reminder is in blue on the wall: RIP Andre.
This city has been linked to two murders in six months this year. In April, 34-year-old Pedro Flores was arrested on suspicion of murder and assault with a deadly weapon after he ran over a person living in the camp and allegedly dragged a male body 200 meters below the vehicle. In September, the camp was the scene of a stabbing that killed an uninhabited male veteran.
Reynolds had more than one nightmare about veterans being killed on the street. An Iraqi war veteran once slept in a sleeping bag by the street after he was not allowed into the VA program in 2018 because of his service dog.
“I saw veterans all over the sidewalk, they didn’t come out, the police came and eliminated them every few weeks,” the 33-year-old said. “I grew up in a large military family and I was always taught to respect veterans. And so seeing this struck the deepest veins. I couldn’t believe I saw people who went into battle sleeping on the sidewalk and dying here. “
Outside the tents, signs were hung about the plight of homeless veterans: “We fought for you, please fight for us.” Black storage boxes were placed outside the tents with a sheet to document inventory for relocation.
Reynolds helped set up 20 tents on the VA campus, including new cribs, blankets and towels for those moving from Veterans Row. U-Haul will arrive on Monday to help load everyone’s belongings to put in storage if needed.
Ronald Estrada-Ortiz, a Marine Corps veteran, moved to the VA campus two days ago. He was able to bring clothes and two backpacks with him.
Estrada-Ortiz signed up when he was 18 years old – he finished high school on Wednesday and became a Marine by Friday – motivated by the 9/11 events.
“I’m bleeding red, white and blue,” he said. “I love this country.”
However, he expressed disappointment over the length of time it took veterans to get help, calling it a “money issue”. He also questioned the misconceptions that community members would have about non-housing.
“We just got the wrong hand,” the 35-year-old said.
When asked when he was supposed to move, Johnson said she was guilty. He doesn’t like to plan anymore.
“Everyone wants me inside,” he said from his seat behind the piano. He doesn’t really want to move, but he would go because, as they joked, “these guys can’t take care of themselves.”
He intends to take only the “essentials” with him. This includes a piano he rescued six months ago.
Draw attention to the information booth on campus VA. His new home for the piano.