Nearly 25 Homeless Malibu Fire Victims Have Found Housing

Gerry with the keys to his new apartment

It’s hard to fathom that 25 people in Malibu were left homeless by the Woolsey Fire, yet that’s the figure given by housing navigator Melissa Brown, who works for Malibu via The People Concern nonprofit of Santa Monica. She and two outreach workers here have had their hands full helping those victims along with the rest of the local homeless population.

Brown said part of the reason she was hired was to help house Malibu people affected by Woolsey, all of whom were issued housing vouchers through the LA County Housing Authority.

“I’m still in the process of finding housing for about five of them,” she said. “COVID put everything on hold.” 

In addition to fire victims, The People Concern has moved 134 people off Malibu streets from 2016 to May 2020, with 27 of those going into permanent housing, according to the latest report on the city website.

And it’s not easy finding landlords willing to take the housing vouchers.

One man, whom Brown identified only as Gerry, had already been homeless for about 10 years in and around Malibu.

“I found myself out on the street or in a tent as a result of drinking and drugging,” he said. “And I no longer cared about the quality of my life or how I was living.”

He had stored all of his belongings at the house of a local friend; the house burned in the fire and Gerry lost everything. After Woolsey, Gerry connected with The People Concern on one of their rounds here and learned that he automatically qualified for a housing voucher. He was more than ready to get off the street, but there was still a process to go through.

“He was struggling with addiction issues,” Brown explained. “At one point, after we started working with him, he had a small encounter with the police in Malibu and ended up in jail. After he got out, we went to court with him and gave a letter advocating for him to the judge. Gerry went straight from court to transitional housing, detox, a six-month substance abuse program and then permanent housing. He’s now been in his permanent apartment for a year.”

Transitional housing is a necessary step, and usually involves co-living with a roommate, said Brown.

“It’s essential for them to acclimate to being housed—to transition away from survival mode and start cooking and cleaning,” she described. “It gives the person a new way of thinking and living while still under case management.”

“Gerry has been very successful—he was so ready and willing to change his life,” Brown added. “He’s been sober a year and he’s so happy to be housed. Having a stable home is essential to growth for anyone. He’s blossomed in a way that he never could have done on the street. He’s more self-confident and trusting, and he loves his cats so dearly.”

Gerry expressed gratitude for the life he has now.

“For me to be housed permanently and have that security and freedom is wonderful,” Gerry said. “It’s nice every morning waking up in my own bed and taking a shower in my own house. I’m really grateful to have what I have, and that I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten.”

And what does he do for a living? “He’s really good at acquiring antiques and selling them on eBay,” Brown said.

The People Concern’s CEO, John Maceri, is proud of his organization’s stellar record: 92 percent of the homeless people they place into permanent housing stay there, compared to national housing retention rates of 60 to 65 percent.

 “What we do works because of the intensive support services we provide, which include clinicians as well as non-clinicians,” Maceri said in a recent interview. “It’s not just getting people housed, it’s keeping them housed. We have case management services tailored to each individual,” based on different combinations of health conditions, past trauma, mental health and substance abuse.

“Once the individual is housed, we help them reintegrate into the community with public transportation options, where to buy groceries, food bank locations, et cetera—helping them not just to live but to thrive,” he continued.

Maceri explained that their permanent housing department oversees entire buildings as well as scattered sites.

“Our teams work closely with individual residents to understand their needs and wants and connect them to mental health services, if necessary, as well as primary medical care,” Maceri continued, adding, “Some buildings have on-site offices during the week where we keep an eye on residents, observing and intervening as needed.”

The People Concern employs 650 people, with temporary and permanent housing locations all over LA County.