Guest Column: Overnight Camping and Homelessness

The mayor and council are correct in trying to prohibit certain types of overnight camping during these unprecedented drought conditions. The foremost responsibility of government is to protect its citizens, and the risk of fire from overnight camping, whether from homeless people or from recreational campers, represents a significant threat to our city. Our homeless people should not be singled out, however. Nobody during a severe drought should be allowed to camp overnight in high fire danger areas, because just one campfire can cause extensive devastation.

We need to understand that ridding the dry hills of homeless encampments might present challenges, as many individuals could move from the hills onto our streets. Unfortunately, some in our community see our homeless people as freeloaders, lazy people who are gaming the system. The sad fact is that many, if not most of our homeless neighbors, are suffering from mental disorders, addiction, traumatic history, etc. and, contrary to popular misinformation, most of them do not prefer living in a homeless state.

At a council meeting earlier this year, Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Silverstein stated that we should only take care of our homegrown homeless population, and the rest should return to where they came from. That, of course, is not going to happen. Silverstein called those trying to help our vulnerable homeless people “bleeding hearts.” The fact is that we cannot construct a wall to keep people out, nor can we address this complex issue only through enforcement.

Several months ago, Paul Davis, representing the City of Malibu’s Homelessness Working Group, presented our council with a tested, constructive approach to address the current  situation—specifically, an alternative sleeping location (ASL) modeled on the successful program in Laguna Beach. The ASL would provide short-term, interim housing for 30 to 40 local homeless people willing to accept support services and work toward achieving permanent housing throughout LA County. This approach deserves careful consideration from our community and, if executed, may well give us legal standing to enforce the prohibition against dangerous encampments.

The city currently funds a successful program run by The People Concern, a social service agency specializing in helping homeless people find and remain in permanent housing. They currently have two full time outreach workers linking Malibu’s homeless individuals with a range of services leading to family reunification and supportive permanent housing for many. 

The facts speak to the success of these efforts: The most recent official count shows that overall homelessness in Malibu has fallen from 239 people to 157 people. Nevertheless, this number is still too high.

The prohibition against many encampments in concert with continued work by our outreach team and a possible alternative sleeping location could significantly reduce the number of people living on our streets, beaches and hillsides. Let’s  make our city safer while also helping our most vulnerable residents transition to permanent, supportive housing.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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