From Jan. 10-15, Southern Californians scurried for their space heaters as a cold snap broke all-time records. But one population that has no space to heat is Los Angeles County’s estimated 51,000 homeless, who flock to the Southland for its habitually mild winter.
Standing outside the Malibu Community Labor Exchange last Friday, a man named Joel who has lived more than 20 winters outdoors in Malibu said this was the coldest one he could recall.
“With this temperature dropping like it does, and the colder wind blowing, I’ve got to where I couldn’t read a book, I couldn’t put stuff up, my hands would get numb. And I’ve never had my hands get that cold here, and I’ve been here since ’91,” he said.
Two local volunteer groups reported an uptick in demand for blankets, hoodies and jackets from Malibu’s homeless population, believed to number approximately 50. Martha Templeton is the manager of thrift store Artifac Tree on Cross Creek Road, which distributes donated clothing to those in need. She said last week the store distributed about 50 more hoodies, blankets and pieces of clothing than usual as temperatures dropped.
“Some of them are even asking for black plastic bags, because they say they can put them on their legs and it keeps them warm, which is kind of amazing,” Templeton said.
Daniel Packman of volunteer organization SOS (“Standing on Stone”) reported similar demand. Founded by Packman and his wife Hollie 13 years ago, SOS hosts a community dinner every Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Webster Elementary for approximately 100 people in need, after which they give away clothing and other necessities donated by churches and residents.
“We’re distributing more blankets, more sleeping bags, more heavy coats, than we have in the past,” Packman said Friday.
Oscar Mondragon, Center Director for the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, says about 10 to 15 homeless people come by the center every day either to get a cup of coffee or a snack, or to find work.
“One of the saddest things is that when people live outside, they’re more exposed than anybody to the elements,” Mondragon said. “People here were shivering because of the wind. And everybody wants to get inside the office to get shelter from the wind…A lot of the people that slept outside couldn’t sleep because it was so cold.”
The main impediment to sleeping outside in Malibu, according to Joel, is the strong winter winds.
“It gets to be one, two, three in the morning and that same wind’s blowing, it gets cold. [The temperature] drops with that northerly wind, and plus it’s cold, it’s blowing hard. So there’s no way to really protect yourself, you’re leaning into it,” he said. “At night, you have to try to sleep, and you have to get out of that wind. If you do sleep and you’re cold, you really don’t get good sleep. You know, you wake up and your back hurts, your neck hurts, you’re miserable, and you really didn’t replenish much because you’re just cold, you couldn’t sleep very good, you know. But if you sleep, keep warm and comfortable, you know, you get up, you feel a lot better.”
One silver lining from the recent cold weather was that it did not rain at the same time, which could have been a deadly combination.
Packman said there was one documented case in the past of a homeless person dying in Malibu of hypothermia.
“We’re definitely aware of that, and seeing how the guys are doing health-wise,” Packman said. “Keeping them from getting wet. In some cases, it’s rare, we’ll put someone in a hotel room.”
Mondragon, Packman and others estimated the homeless population in Malibu to range anywhere from 30 to 50, although that number rises and falls as people from as far away as Chicago and Minneapolis come and go. They live primarily in the shopping center areas, from east Malibu to the Civic Center, ranging westward to Point Dume, Busch Drive and Trancas.
Packman noted that while the weather was cold—downtown Los Angeles recorded a record-low 34 degrees on Monday, Jan. 14—it did not last long.
“[In the Midwest] it’s four months of cold weather. They come to California because it’s four days of cold weather.”
Templeton said she encouraged her board of directors to “clean their closets out” during the recent cold spell.
“If the community would like to give clothing, give hoodies, sweaters—[they] can be not that nice, because the homeless don’t wear them that long,” she said. “The homeless walk during the day, so they don’t like big heavy coats. Light sweaters they can dress in layers and peel off are good.”
To donate or find more information about these organizations call or visit: SOS at 805.499.4279 or Sosmalibu.org; Artifac Tree at 310.456.1068 or Artifactree.org; or Malibu Labor Exchange at 310.317.4717 or MalibuLaborExchange.org.