It was an email to NBC4 that led us to a homeless encampment some residents feel rivals Skid Row itself.
As part of our "Streets of Shame" series, NBC4 has been flooded with emails, phone calls, photos and videos of what people in Los Angeles say they live with every day. Their stories of the homeless crisis have been a focus for our series, their complaints about the city’s response has been a mission NBC4 is trying to get answers to.
The latest concern for some in the San Fernando Valley is an encampment near the Sepulveda Basin. It sits along a riverbank just south of Burbank Boulevard and north of the 101 Freeway and from the 405 Freeway to Havyenhurst Avenue. It took NewsChopper4 Alpha to view it from above to grasp just how big it is down below.
Streets Of Shame
Reports on Los Angeles' homelessness issue
"I’m, like, I’m shocked right now," says a woman who didn’t want to be identified. She was walking near the start of the encampment just by the 405 Freeway with her husband and their little dog. "We can’t even walk our dog, like honestly, through the streets."
She said she was afraid of a confrontation with one of the countless people suffering from homelessness in the bushes.
Driving by on Burbank Boulevard, you may not immediately see it, but recent traffic when the area was down to one lane before the Christmas holiday left some drivers staring at what was beyond the brush.
People who live nearby and reached out to NBC4 say some tents are so big, they appear like warehouses. They say they’ve seen the people who live here – some in what they call "tree houses" and using titles among themselves like "mayor" and "governor" of the encampment.
And while it's not illegal to be homeless in Los Angeles, some residents argue the City isn't doing enough to enforce health and safety codes and to push encampments like this out.
"I came here because it's quiet and lovely," says Deborah Smith, a recently new resident of Sherman Oaks who sent pictures of the RVs that line Riverside Drive where she lives.
"It's a safety factor now," she says. "It's dirt, it's filth, I’m seeing rodents that I've never seen and it's become unbearable."
Smith says she's seen the encampment near the basin and worries the amount of homeless people living there could lead to an increase in her area as well.
LA City Councilwoman Nury Martinez says the encampments in the Sepulveda Basin capture her exact frustrations.
In a statement to NBC4, she added this: "While service providers are out there almost daily, there are numerous homeless individuals who do not want the assistance at this time. At the same time, we have neighborhoods in parts of this city saying that while something needs to be done about homelessness, they don't want housing or service providers in their community."
"As a result, encampments concentrate in areas like this, and it's not fair. It's not fair for communities like Lake Balboa, or Van Nuys, or Sun Valley. And it's not fair for our kids or families to not feel safe or be able to enjoy the recreational and nature-based amenities of the Sepulveda Basin."
"This location, and others across the city, are targeted by the Unified Homeless Response Center for coordination of critical social and clean-up services."
Martinez said she was unavailable for on-camera comment and did not discuss the bigger concern for those who live around here – the documented rise in crime.
"The filth and the aggressiveness and the needles and the feces, that to me is a crime," Smith says. "And we’re not getting anywhere."