One couple had been sleeping in their car for months in the Malibu Public Library parking lot, trying to get together the money they needed to make some repairs and drive back home to Seattle. A severely disabled man who’d been living on the streets of Malibu for 18 months just needed a bus ticket to go home to his father in Salt Lake City. Another couple moved to LA from Texas, and when the husband lost his job, they could no longer pay for their apartment. Another man ended up in Malibu after someone stole his truck with all his belongings in downtown LA.
What do all these people have in common? Project Homeward Bound, affiliated with St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Malibu since last August, made sure they and a number of other homeless people stranded in Malibu were able to go home. The project paid $400 for repairs and travel expenses to the first couple, paid $200 for a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Salt Lake City for the second man, gave the third couple $420 to cover the expenses of returning to Texas, and paid $220 for the man whose truck was stolen to take a bus back to Sun Valley, Idaho.
The program was initiated by Deacon Paul Elder, who reports that 11 people have now been “removed from the streets of Malibu at a cost of $1,790.” Anyone familiar with the millions of dollars being spent to help the homeless in LA County will recognize that this may be one of the most cost efficient programs around.
Elder, as spokesman for the congregation of St. Aidan’s, pointed out that some homeless do require a lot of funds to get back on their feet—especially if they’re battling mental illness, substance abuse or health problems. However, stranded homeless people who simply lack the funds to return to family in another state are one of the easier subgroups to help.
“They can be rescued with very little cost and with their best interests being served,” Elder wrote in a report. “Many have come here with a naïve and inaccurate image of life in Los Angeles, expecting their dreams to become reality. The truth soon hits them that work with sufficient income to afford to live here is hard to find. Once here, many are unable to provide themselves with shelter and they begin a downward spiral into homelessness.
“The premise behind ‘Project Homeward Bound’ is to find the means to safely send them home, sometimes to a reunification with family and to give them a second chance to build a new life. At the same time we are helping to decrease the number of people living on our streets,” Elder wrote.
He finds candidates for the program simply by spending a lot of time on the streets of Malibu talking to the homeless.
“Through my work, I get to know a lot of them personally,” Elder said in a phone interview. Once he finds a candidate, he contacts the family back home to set up the return. “I always try and talk to a family member or friend before I send them off.
“I talked to one guy’s father who said, ‘I’m very upset with him, but he’s still my son, so I’ll take him back.’ Things are going well for him now, and he got a job,” Elder said. He stays in touch with a number of the homeless people he helped return home.
The Reverend Doctor Joyce Stickney, the church rector, said in a phone interview that after Elder was ordained as a deacon later in life, he developed an interest in helping the homeless while working as a chaplain at UCLA a few years ago.
“A lot of the students at UCLA were hungry, homeless and sleeping in their cars,” Stickney said. “That’s when he first developed an interest in helping them.” After a time, she explained, he returned to Malibu and St. Aidan’s, because he “already had connections in the community” and began helping the homeless here. Elder became a member of the leadership team of the Malibu Task Force on Homelessness and is also one of the founding members of CART.
Funds for “Project Homeward Bound” come from St. Aiden’s outreach and fundraising efforts. Anyone interested in contributing, or anyone who has a candidate for the program can contact the church at 310.457.7966.