Reaching Out

The St. Joseph team pictured, from left, back row: Scott Edens, Jason Durden, Motique Alston, Jasmine Lucas, Kenneth Clipper, Kiana Bobo, Derrick Lewis and Rrose LaMay; front row: Mateo Villasenor, Amy Friedman, Cassandra Castanades, Carrie Kowalski, Melrita Ables Jonathan Ashworth, Tia Draton and Gabrielle Brambasco

Many Malibu residents fail to realize all the things that go on behind the scenes when it comes to getting the local homeless population engaged with outreach workers and moving them into housing. There is a lot happening here almost every day of the week and a tremendous effort being made by all of the agencies that deal with the town’s homeless population. 

While a number of people know about The People Concern’s outreach workers and the sheriff’s department, many don’t know that St. Joseph Center of Venice also comes to our community and provides crucial services to the homeless in medical and mental health diagnosis and treatment (using doctors from the Venice Family Clinic) and substance abuse counseling, in addition to getting them into housing. 

Scott Edens, case manager for E6 street-based outreach and north quadrant lead for St. Joseph Center (E-6 refers to county-based outreach teams), oversees the outreach effort for eight nearby cities, but visits Malibu most often (three times a week) “because of the need,” he said. 

As a military veteran and former homeless person himself, Edens wrote that helping other homeless veterans “is in my scope [of work] and something I’m passionate about. I have a wide variety of resources and connections to other agencies to ensure our homeless veteran population receives the highest level of care possible. I actually instruct and advise a wide variety of service providers in this service planning area (SPA), including some of the LAPD, in responding to and assisting combat veterans who have incurred trauma.”

“Vets have a hard time adapting to the community [after combat], which they now know is PTSD,” Edens said. “Some will stay up in the woods where they feel safe. I take them fire and flood safety information and sand bags. One guy [near Malibu] built his own foxhole with the sandbags, and put in a window of wood. Another guy sets up his tent every night, goes to sleep and then breaks down the tent when he wakes up—just like he did in the military.”

Last Friday, Edens was teamed up with Rrose LaMay, who specializes in substance abuse counseling and connecting with homeless women. 

“Mental health issues and substance abuse can be big hurdles in helping the homeless, along with the high cost of rent in California,” she said. “Not everyone has a family to take them in.”

She emphasized the importance of going out in the field to meet the homeless where they are “physically and emotionally, with no judgment,” especially the ones experiencing mental health issues—“to build rapport and trust.” 

Edens comes to work in Malibu looking like a survivalist—which he is, in a way. He wears coils of rope around his neck because, he said, some of the homeless veterans are living in areas so remote and unreachable, that he has to repel down to their camp location.

The various agencies working in Malibu on the homeless problem all coordinate with each other and keep records on individuals using LA County’s coordinated entry system (CES). The system ensures services aren’t duplicated for individuals.

“We come out even more frequently when we’re working on a specific individual,” Edens said. “Building rapport is very important. I’m on a first-name basis with 45 or 50 individuals in Malibu, and they know my name as well.”

Because Edens has been homeless himself, he understands the mindset of being homeless. 

“I understand the other side and the mental battles, and the practical obstacles of things like getting a driver’s license,” he said. “Finding someone to talk to, and not feeling like I failed at life. It’s tough out there. There’s a crisis going on and there’s human suffering going on.” 

Rev. Paul Elder of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Malibu is very involved with the homeless and impressed with St. Joseph Center. “They have a task force dedicated to this area and are very visible and active,” he wrote in a message to The Malibu Times. “St. Joseph personnel have been a real help to the Malibu homeless community, and complement The People Concern’s work in social services, which is overseen by the city.

“Scott Edens has been able to provide practical help with two of St. Aidan’s homeless projects: Laundry Love to Go, where we transport homeless clients to a laundromat in Agoura and pay for their laundry, and our WorkCrew program where we organize a group of homeless people to clean up old encampment sites in the city,” Elder continued. “Scott and his team are also a good back-up for me in our food programs.”