LA County houses homeless, clears encampments in East Gardena - epicenter of RV homelessness

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Thursday, August 24, 2023
LA County houses homeless, clears encampments in East Gardena
It's become the so-called Skid Row for RV homelessness in L.A. County. Now some of the unhoused living in the area were moved to temporary shelter, and the RVs were towed away.

EAST GARDENA, Calif. (KABC) -- It was a day residents and business owners in East Gardena had been waiting to see for three years.

Some of the unhoused in the area who have been living in mostly derelict RVs were moved to temporary shelter and the RVs were towed away.

"We've had a lot of break-ins, damage is done, stealing electricity... It's just been terrible," said Rosemary Silva, who works nearby at Noir Trading in East Gardena.

It was also a day the unhoused had been waiting for - fed up with life on the streets, having to pay rent to live in waste and unsafe conditions.

"It gets tiring... It's like living a bum life, low grade. You're always getting robbed. Everything is always getting stolen," said Candice Chandler, who is unhoused.

RELATED: Residents say RVs lining stretch of LA County bringing crime, chaos

The Harbor Gateway Chamber of Commerce says there are 500 RVs parked on its streets, but politicians say some of those vehicles should soon be cleared away.

Three weeks ago, Eyewitness News aired the first investigation into the epicenter of RV homelessness in unincorporated Los Angeles County: East Gardena. Over 500 RVs, some filled with children, call those streets home.

"Your involvement has really helped because it's really showing what's going on in the community, and it's showing the strength within our community on how we're having to solve things on our own," said David Matthews, the president of the Harbor Gateway Chamber of Commerce.

But L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who is the top elected official representing East Gardena, says those who live and work in the area have not been forgotten.

"All of us, we've been overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude," Mitchell said.

For over a year, the county has been working on an RV pilot program to clear encampments and house the homeless. Pathway Home launched Tuesday morning.

"It makes me feel horrible, as it should make anyone feel who comes out here and sees the conditions in which people are living, and the conditions in which these small businesses are trying to operate and do their business," Mitchell said when asked about the hundreds of RVs lining the streets.

"We're looking for permanent and real solutions, not merely parking signs that simply move people from the north side of the street to the south side of the street," Mitchell added.

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

Hundreds of otherwise-homeless people, including many children, are living in broken-down RVs in this stretch of LA County.

Investigators with the Department of Motor Vehicles, L.A. County sheriff's homeless outreach team, service providers and L.A. County animal care - who rescued a kitten and a dog left behind - walked the streets of East Gardena. The unhoused were loaded into vans and shuttled to a nearby motel where they will live until they're ready for permanent housing.

The RVs will be towed to a lot nearby and then destroyed, but the investigations will continue into who owns these RVs and who's been renting them out.

Thirty-five RVs were identified to be cleared in the first wave, but some of the unhoused got word of the operation and moved their RVs Monday night to another street. The Sheriff's Department says they know who they are and will track down all the RVs in this area until everyone is housed.

"It is hard to convince them because this has been their life, and we're asking them to make a significant change in their life, to trust the government, that we're going to help them find a pathway home. And that's a scary thing for them," said Sgt. George Suarez, with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's homeless outreach team. "We don't want anyone to die out here. We don't want anyone to get hurt. So this has been an all hands-on deck effort."

When asked about whether the county considers the RVs as housing, Mitchell said she's never said that.

"I've heard that. I never said that. I heard that some of the business leaders said that," Mitchell said. "What we hear is the people who live in them consider them homes, which makes the outreach to people living in RVs different than people living in tents. I've never said that's a home. That's not a home. I don't want any Angeleno to feel that that is their only option."