2023 Malibu Homeless Count conducted last week

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On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Malibu participated for the eighth year in a row in LA County’s annual homeless count, coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). 

A volunteer force of 23 members of the community fanned out in small groups across the 21 miles of Malibu to conduct the count, including two members of the Homelessness Task Force, and the two members of Malibu’s homeless outreach team from The People Concern. Some area surveys involved drive-by counting from a vehicle, while other areas involved getting out on foot. 

“We can’t provide a rough estimate of the number [of unhoused] yet, given that the numbers undergo an extensive data analysis process, but I can say that volunteers counted individuals, families, cars, RVs, tents, and makeshift shelters to ensure we get as accurate a count as possible,” said Luis Flores, public safety liaison for the City of Malibu, and hands-on site coordinator for the last two counts.

He went on to explain that LAHSA utilized a new Homeless Count App built by a new vendor with years of experience developing apps for homeless counts across the country, called ArcGIS Quick Capture. Volunteers also used backup paper maps to record their data for quality assurance. The Malibu count only covered areas within city limits. Unincorporated areas were counted by special teams assigned by LAHSA.

“They’re visual counts using our own judgment as to who looks homeless,” one volunteer said. “There are no conversations with people.”

The federally mandated count provides data that helps various agencies plan for homeless services and housing needs in the communities; and helps the city track progress and adjustprograms and policies, including Malibu’s Homelessness Strategic Plan.

Even though the count is conducted in January, LAHSA doesn’t normally release the results until the end of July. The number of unhoused counted in Malibu last year was 81.

Volunteer Terry Davis, also a member of the city’s Homeless Task Force, was part of the group assigned to survey the area from Las Flores Canyon up to the city limits at Topanga Canyon. She said their group counted one individual plus 18 vehicles parked overnight along Pacific Coast Highway. They didn’t see anyone in Tuna Canyon, although they did observe several abandoned encampments there.

Davis noted that there were noticeably fewer campers and RVs in eastern Malibu along PCH this year than there were last year, and guesses that the homeless count overall will be lower this year than it was last year.

“We think the rains flushed people out of their sleeping places,” she said.

The LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to declare homelessness a local emergency on Jan. 10, following the lead of LA Mayor Karen Bass.  It’s unknown yet exactly how the county declaration might help Malibu or play out in the city.

Newly elected County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, along with Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a joint statement saying “Many smaller cities in the county [like Malibu] are struggling to address homelessness, and in many cases … they rely on the county for funding and homelessness services. Without a coordinated effort between cities and the county we will not be able to effectively address homelessness.”

The statement went on to explain that declaring an emergency will expedite the process of finding homes for the unhoused in a number of ways — accelerate hiring of additional staff, expedite procurement of critical items, allow a faster and more streamlined process for creation of housing, expand services, and open the door to additional resources from the state and federal governments.”

In addition to proclaiming the emergency, the motion also directed county staff to speed up procurement and contracting for materials and services, expedite the hiring of staff to direct the homeless to services and housing, accelerate the creation of more licensed shelter beds and temporary and permanent housing, and identify additional funding. 

The effectiveness of these efforts will be evaluated in six months, with a decision in one year on whether to extend the emergency declaration.