Putting a Face on the Malibu Homeless

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Csilla Csapo moved to Malibu in 1996. She fell into a cycle of depression after divorcing her husband, which eventually led to her being homeless.

With an increase in the number of homeless people in Malibu and the L.A. area in recent years, many residents find themselves encountering the homeless around town more often now than before. The Malibu Times met with two formerly homeless individuals to learn what brought them there and how they overcame a seemingly hopeless situation. 

Csilla Csapo

Csilla (pronounced “Sheila”) was born and raised in the L.A. area with Hungarian immigrant parents, and the unusual spelling of her name comes from the Hungarian alphabet. She became a hair-stylist and at one point worked in Vienna, Austria while her new Hungarian husband was attending school. After he finished, they moved to the U.S. where Csapo found employment at a Malibu salon.

“I came here in ’96 after being married for two years with a husband who didn’t speak English,” Csapo said. “He got culture shock and wouldn’t go to ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, and started drinking and we got divorced.” 

Csapo began experiencing cycles of depression after the divorce and entered a downward spiral where she quit two different jobs and went for periods of time without employment until her money ran out. 

 “My car broke down and I didn’t have the money to fix it,” Csapo said. “I was literally on PCH with a broken-down car and had to walk away from it.” She was homeless.

Although Csapo had family in L.A., she was too ashamed to tell them what was happening and ask for help. She ended up living in a tent on Malibu Creek in the Serra Retreat area with a “protector” she met.

“He kept the riffraff away, and was a member of a reformed Hell’s Angels group,” Csapo said. 

She spent her days hanging out at Coffee Bean or the public library.

“It was tricky figuring out how to spend your day without getting arrested for loitering,” she said. “At sunset, I’d go to my tent.” Once in a while, she got an offer from a local to stay in a tree house or burned out home.

To make a few bucks, Csapo did haircuts at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, but her deepening depression was making her suicidal. “I actually went mute for six months and quit eating,” she said. “I got the skinniest of my life and it got worse every month. “

After nearly a year of homelessness, a former hair client ran into Csapo at the grocery store and was shocked at her appearance and demeanor. The woman referred her to a counselor in Encino who she saw weekly for eight months, pro bono. “I went, come hell or high water,” Csapo said. 

During that time, she also ran into another former client at Starbucks who was helping the homeless through a group named SOS. They invited her to live in their guest room where they bought her clothes and food, helped her out of her depression, and gave her some money for a security deposit. 

“It didn’t take long to get back to my senses once I had hope,” Csapo said. Within months, she got a job styling hair at a prestigious salon in Malibu and was back on her feet again, renting and living in a “rustic cabin” in Topanga. To this day, she still works in town as a stylist, lives nearby and helps the homeless any way she can.

Winston McCallip

Winston McCallip is a tall, slim guy who still has a touch of Tennessee drawl from his home state. He doesn’t really like to talk about himself, but readily admits that his days of homelessness were mostly caused by a problem with alcohol, along with a desire to see the country.

“I was homeless for most of the ’80s,” he said. “I hitchhiked all 50 states. I was really a rambler.” He worked all kinds of odd jobs, including construction, planting trees, picking fruit and raking blueberries. 

McCallip liked riding freight trains, which he jumped on from the train yards, sometimes having no idea where he would end up.

“I made it from Salt Lake City to L.A. once in only 24 hours,” he said nostalgically. “The longest ride I ever got was from Roseville, Calif. to Lincoln, Neb.”

He’s had some long periods of sobriety, including a 14-year stretch from 1990 to 2004, but has been on and off the wagon a couple of times since.  He’s now been without a drink for a year and goes to local AA meetings every day. 

One of the points where McCallip hit rock bottom was in Hawaii. “I had the DTs (delirium tremors) real bad and a psychotic episode, and tore up three stores while I was hallucinating,” he said. He was basically told by authorities to leave the state. 

McCallip ended up in Malibu by hitchhiking and has now been here for over five years. He receives a government check, has a modest place to stay and helps homeless people. He has friends that support him and help him stay sober and no desire to return to his previous life.

“If I drink, the cops know right away,” he laughed. “I really have to stay on the straight and narrow.”

He likes Malibu because “it’s a little town with a sense of community. You get to know people, and it’s like a neighborhood.” 

CART

Out of concern for their welfare, as well as public safety, a local grassroots task force was formed several months ago, the Community Assistance Resource Team (CART), which has actively been looking into the problem of homelessness and its solutions.

Along with learning which government agencies and nonprofits might be available to help the Malibu homeless, the task force is also learning about homelessness’ root causes, which often include chronic drug and alcohol abuse, and untreated mental illnesses, as well as lack of income due to job loss, divorce, jail-time, or illness. 

Anyone interested in joining the CART task force can contact Carol Moss at 310.456.3591 or greenlotus@earthlink.net for more information.