Malibu’s First Full-Time Social Workers are Here to Assist the Homeless

After nearly 18 months of effort, the Malibu Task Force on Homelessness, co-chaired by Jay Scott and Pamela Conley Ulich, has raised enough money through donations and grants to bring two full-time social workers to the city. The Malibu Homeless Outreach Team, as it is called, are hired, trained and managed by the longtime Santa Monica-based nonprofit organization The People Concern (whose name was recently changed from OPCC).

The team consists of a man and a woman — Turner Vail and Alex Michel — who started their 40-hour-per-week jobs in late September. So far, they’re spending time getting to know the members of the community and sheriff’s department who are most familiar with Malibu’s homeless population, and meeting some of the homeless. Nearly all of their time will be spent in the field, going wherever the homeless are, whether it’s streets, hillsides, beaches, bluffs, canyons or tunnels.

“I’m very impressed with the new outreach team and look forward to working with them,” Scott said.

The purpose of providing social services for the homeless is, first, to get them the help they need to get off the streets and into temporary or permanent housing, as well as connecting each individual with whatever support services he or she needs.

“Ninety-five percent of the people we serve have mental health issues, 60 percent have a serious medical condition and 65 percent have substance addiction,” Christina Miller, PhD and associate director of The People Concern, said. “Some of the homeless are ‘tri-morbid’ and have all three.”

To that end, The People Concern will help Malibu homeless individuals brought in by the social workers with a variety of services that include not only housing that is matched to an individual’s needs, but mental health and substance abuse services provided by integrated teams that include clinical psychologists, marriage and family therapists, nurses and other clinicians. The teams do intakes, psychological assessments and medication reviews, among other things. 

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The Venice Family Clinic and St. John’s provide medical services. 

“We also do street medicine for medical care, going out to the parks and wherever we find people,” Miller said. In addition, The People Concern has a domestic violence program and can provide income assistance. Homeless individuals who find housing in a new community are linked to new medical care in that community.

Though some in the community have raised concerns over qualifications for the outreach team, task force members expressed confidence they were up for the task.

In hiring the Malibu outreach team, just as with similar teams in places like Pacific Palisades, Miller said they look for individuals with a bachelor’s degree, an ability to communicate, good interpersonal skills and experience in social services. “They need to have a big heart and want to help people and get to know them,” she said. 

The outreach team’s first objective is to survey homeless individuals in Malibu, going first to the hotspots where they cluster, and trying to establish a record for each person that includes name, birthdate, social security number, how long they’re been on the street, where they originated and where they frequent. The team also tries to evaluate whether any medical issues need immediate attention. Is the person coherent?  Are they limping? Do they need to go to the emergency room?

Most homeless people are not willing to accept services right away, and it can take a long period of time to build trust and rapport, according to experienced experts in the field.  

The Malibu Task Force is continuing to raise money, hoping to meet its goal of $555,000 — the amount needed to continue the services of two full-time People Concern social workers and related expenses for a total of three years. Scott said the task force is also hoping to find a small office somewhere in Malibu that the social workers can use. Anyone interested in donating to the cause, or who has an available office, can contact him at scottjc42@verizon.net.

 Homeless individuals in Malibu and Malibu residents trying to help a homeless person can contact the Malibu Homeless Outreach Team at 310.460.2638 (leave a detailed message) or MalibuOutreach@opcc.net.

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