Tallying Malibu’s Homeless

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Malibu Labor Exchange

As part of a government program little-known to most residents, a small group of local volunteers took part in the biannual homeless count for Malibu in late January. 

The “2015 Point-in-Time” count was part of a national effort by the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) during the last week of January to count the homeless in every community. The information is used to pinpoint areas most in need of social services and funding. 

The Malibu count goes to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), a joint agency of the City and County of Los Angeles created in 1993. LAHSA manages over $70 million annually in federal, state, county and city funds, which are used for shelter, housing and services for an estimated 53,798 homeless.

The counts are taken after dark from about 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. – presumably because the homeless are easier to count when they’re sleeping on park benches and in doorways, and not moving around. This method may work in an urban environment, but probably not so much in a rural area like Malibu. 

Jay Scott, one of the local volunteers, said they were sent out in cars with three-person teams consisting of a driver, a navigator and a counter. His team was assigned to areas of Mulholland, Decker, Encinal, Broad Beach, Trancas, Westward Beach, Point Dume, Heathercliff and Kanan.

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

The count follows HUD definitions of homelessness, which include people living in places not meant for human habitation such as cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings.

Scott said his team mostly stayed in the car, getting out occasionally to scout woodsy areas where homeless are known to sleep, like behind Vintage Grocers (no one was there). His group tallied a total of six homeless in their assigned area, all in the Westward Beach vicinity. 

“There were four homeless individuals, an RV/camper that was obviously housing someone and someone sleeping in a pick-up,” Scott said. Volunteers were told not to approach vehicles to look inside.

Local Realtor Bianca Torrence served as volunteer coordinator for the Malibu count, whose past experience included organizing the homeless count in her former community of Tarzana. 

Torrence secured a meeting location for volunteers at Our Lady of Malibu, but “couldn’t get enough volunteers, so the county had to send people out to help,” she said. “I don’t think the count or results we got for Malibu are at all accurate. Some of the [volunteers or county workers] don’t know the areas where the homeless hang out, and it’s hard to see at night with flashlights.”

The person who’s probably most familiar with homelessness in Malibu is Martha Templeton, manager of the Artifac Tree – the local secondhand store that uses its profits to help the homeless.

“I probably see about 50 homeless people a week here,” Templeton said. “We have an unofficial program to help people who are stuck in Malibu. We buy lots of bus tickets and gas cards, and I try to encourage them to move on. We give them clothes and shoes if needed.”

Templeton also knows enough about local social services to find other types of assistance for the homeless. “We’ve helped some people get into sober living facilities,” she said, “although not the homes in Malibu because they’re too expensive.” 

No two homeless are alike in terms of needs. Artifac Tree has paid for mentally ill homeless to get back on psychiatric medications they need in order to act “normally” and hold down a job. Some are sent to Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) in Santa Monica to receive a variety of social services, including permanent housing. Others have needed to be taken to the hospital. When the occasional teen runaway shows up, the Sheriffs are called. 

Templeton also recognizes that some homeless like the outdoor lifestyle and don’t want assistance. “Some don’t want a home, they want to ramble,” she said. “We try to send the travelers away.”

The Malibu Labor Exchange helps the homeless by referring clean and sober individuals for day jobs, and offering coffee and sandwiches. Manager Oscar Mondragon said he averages about 10 homeless a day, and observed that most end up in Malibu by bus or foot coming from Santa Monica, and then camp along Malibu Creek or the bluff next to Ralphs.

Every Thursday, Malibu churches take turns serving a home-cooked dinner to the homeless.