Amid homelessness crisis, stretch of LA County has become an RV wasteland

Josh Haskell Image
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Amid homeless crisis, stretch of LA County becomes RV wasteland
Hundreds of otherwise-homeless people, including many children, are living in broken-down RVs in this stretch of LA County.

EAST GARDENA, Calif. (KABC) -- The streets of East Gardena and West Rancho Dominguez weren't designed to be an RV park.

But they're home to hundreds of run-down RVs without any services.

This is unincorporated Los Angeles County and the homeless who live here are just trying to survive.

"It sucks. Nothing works. The restrooms. Sewers. The trash," said Erin Echavarria, who lives in one of the RVs.

The RVs are parked on public property, with the largest concentrations on Compton Boulevard and Redondo Beach Boulevard.

Some are paying hundreds of dollars a month in rent to live in these conditions. Over 500 RVs and over 100 children are living here, according to the Harbor Gateway Chamber of Commerce.

For those who live and work in this mainly industrial area, it's an environmental disaster.

"Any pile of trash you can find, you just put it there," said Echavarria.

With many RVs lacking working toilets, people just dump their human waste on the ground or into the sewers, she added.

"The smell is horrific and our kids can't walk to school under the freeways because it smells so horrible," said Barbara Tyson-Frazier, who lives a mile from East Gardena.

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Local business owner Frank Rashed said the community feels forgotten.

"We're in a no man's land over here," Rashed said. "Other surrounding areas seem to be getting cleaned up and so it's all being pushed into our corridor over here."

Rashed has operated his art design company out of a warehouse at Main Street and Compton Boulevard since 2006.

He says it used to be a great place to run a business with four freeways nearby, but the last few years have been incredibly challenging. His business has been broken into four times in the last three months.

"It just seems like it's spinning wheels. It keeps getting worse. Clients don't want to come here and walk through trash. People - they don't know if they're going to attack them or not attack them."

"We feel for the people in the RVs too," he added. "Don't get me wrong, but they need help."

East Gardena/West Rancho Dominguez is in LA County's second district represented by Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Mitchell was joined by Carter Hewgley, senior director of local jurisdiction coordination and support for the LA county homeless initiative. The two said things aren't moving fast enough, but progress is being made on the county's top priority - ending homelessness.

"We got here because LA County is 800,000 housing units short of what we need to provide housing for our current population," Mitchell said. "The challenge is because of the policies passed by many of our neighboring cities, people have flocked to our unincorporated communities to park."

Those who live and work in this area said the lack of housing doesn't justify the lack of county services like trash removal and parking enforcement. Businesses have seen their taxes go up and property value go down.

"On Wednesday, they clean up the street, they're not giving them tickets," said Evangelos Krokidas, owner of Fabulous Grill on Main Street.

Mitchell said it is a collective responsibility on the part of various county agencies.

"The sheriff has a responsibility, a role to play. This isn't a single department challenge. It absolutely does help if citations are issued. Build a case. And perhaps expedite our efforts to have that RV moved and dismantled," said Supervisor Mitchell.

In June, the county launched Pathway Home, a major expansion of efforts to house and clear encampments. So far under the program, 17 RVs in East Gardena have been cleared and the occupants were moved into interim housing.

The program has a goal of removing 1,500 RVs countywide over three years. And getting people like Erin Echavarria, who lives in a broken down RV and is battling a meth addiction, the help she needs.

"I do have other places to go, but I'm stuck in my addiction, stuck here, that I choose to be here instead of getting the help I need from the people who love me," said Echavarria.

Mitchell says RV homelessness has an added set of challenges because the RVs often aren't owned by the person living inside and the county has to notify the owner before towing it.

One of the issues LA County has run into is the lack of space to store and impound the vehicles. Many of them are inoperable and worth nothing so tow companies are reluctant to remove them.

With all these challenges, many in this unincorporated area feel they're not getting the homeless resources that other communities have received.

Many people Eyewitness News spoke to in the area said they had trouble getting in contact with Mitchell's office.

Supervisor Mitchell responded, "that's unequivocally untrue."

Tuesday morning, county crews were cleaning up some of the garbage, but because of the sheer number of RVs, business owners think it will come right back. A community meeting with elected officials and law enforcement is scheduled for Thursday.