Homeless Task Force finalizing recommendations

“Alternative Sleeping Locations” top the list

Last July, after nearly 20 fires had been started in various local homeless encampments in just the previous six months, residents had enough. It was a drought year, and the extremely dry vegetation in and around Malibu posed a very high fire danger—to a City still reeling after nearly 10 percent of its houses burned in the 2018 Woolsey Fire.

City Council took action by amending its Nuisance Code, giving it more teeth to address fire hazards in homeless encampments and private properties. On Aug. 23, they voted 5-0 to declare a state of local emergency, “to prevent the occurrences of fire and loss of life and property,” which gave the Sheriff’s Department a legal means to clear out homeless encampments, which they did. (Once the rains started, the City lifted the “emergency” declaration because fire conditions changed, but it still has the legal tools to remove encampments.)

Council also appointed ten members to a new Homeless Task Force last August, with the aim of looking at permanent, long-term solutions in addition to the City’s two full-time outreach workers and the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Services Team. The task force is now putting the finishing touches on its recommendations, which were put into draft form last month. 

At the Jan. 18 meeting, the task force voted to move forward with their proposed plans by having the ad hoc legal committee review and discuss it with City Attorney Trevor Rusin; and schedule a special meeting around Feb. 1.

Vice-chair Bill Winokur emphasized in a phone interview that the proposed plans are still a work-in-progress subject to change; and that the final decisions will be made by City Council.

As of now, their number one priority is to set up an “Alternative Sleeping Location” (ASL) for the homeless, which would allow the City to enforce its Anti-Camping Ordinance. 

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The 2009 Martin vs. Boise Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which was upheld later by the U.S. Supreme Court, held that cities could not enforce anti-camping ordinances on public property with persons experiencing homelessness if there is no indoor shelter for them to go to. Otherwise, it amounts to punishing people for being homeless. 

According to the most recent homeless count, Malibu has approximately 140 unhoused individuals. Based on that, how many beds should Malibu have in an ASL? Different agencies have different formulas, and there’s no set answer; but task force member Kelly Pessis guessed a minimum of six, which would actually give Malibu a greater ratio of beds to homeless than LA County.

The “Primary Plan” being worked on by the task force would establish an ASL outside Malibu city limits but within 20 miles of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station or future Malibu substation. They envision a location on a “mixed use boulevard” on the Westside or San Fernando Valley. 

Why outside Malibu? The task force maintains that Malibu is too geographically isolated and small to provide proper support services to the homeless, maintaining they’d be better off in an area with more public transportation options, medical and mental health facilities, job opportunities, stores, and government agencies.

There are a couple options the City could consider. One is to rent or buy a single-family house and provide a set-up similar to group homes and assisted living programs, where it’s legal for up to six people to stay in one house without any zoning changes, permits, or remodeling required. Additional houses could be bought or rented as needed in the same area. Beds could be available to the City in a very short time—60 to 90 days.

Another option is for the City to buy or rent one larger facility as opposed to multiple houses, which could save money—lower cost per bed, fewer staff, lower fixed costs, and increased ability to monitor behavior, especially with an open floor plan. 

This option appears to be inspired by the Laguna Beach-owned ASL—a doublewide trailer with an open floor plan. Taskforce member Paul Davis said up to 40 people [on floor mats] could sleep in the Laguna facility overnight.

A Malibu-owned ASL would be managed and staffed by a nonprofit partner organization and provide short-term sleeping arrangements and transitional support services for the homeless as the budget allows. The homeless staying there would have to agree to behave and abide by the rules. 

The task force’s “Secondary Plan” would involve establishing an ASL within the city limits of Malibu—an option that would only be explored if an ASL outside Malibu is unfeasible. Based on public comments in past meetings on the subject of homelessness, some level of community opposition to the idea would be expected. The Plan is even is somewhat controversial within the task force itself, with two out of 10 members saying they would not support an ASL in Malibu. 

In a third or “Tertiary” Plan alternative, the City would pay to use beds at existing facilities outside Malibu and provide transportation to them. However, there aren’t a lot of facilities out there.

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