Sheriff’s station clarifies efforts in enforcing against homeless encampments in Malibu

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The Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station in Agoura Hills. Photo by Samantha Bravo.

LASD has robust program dealing with the humanitarian crisis

The Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station is clarifying its response to the enforcement of homeless policies in Malibu. After The Malibu Times published an article last month that conflated two city meetings where criticisms of the department were voiced, The Malibu Times spoke with Capt. Jennifer Seetoo, who provided important clarifications as to the department’s processes in the handling of the homeless crisis and LASD enforcement.

Seetoo emphasized “we are still enforcing the Malibu Camping Ordinance [MCO],” as she addressed the misunderstanding that her department cannot enforce the law when the city’s three alternative sleeping locations (ASLs) are filled. When those beds are filled Seetoo explained that while deputies may not be able to enforce the MCO there are other options she has to remove homeless encampments. She cited the recent sweep of an encampment at Surfrider Beach as an example.

While the department may not be able to cite the unhoused immediately in every encounter under the MCO, all situations reported are dealt with according to the captain. LA County Sheriff’s deputies use outreach and education to inform the unsheltered of other options available to them. 

“I’m going to always start with education and resources first,” Seetoo said. 

However, sometimes it’s not as easy as one might hope. According to the captain, it can take 10 minutes or even more than a month to convince some unhoused individuals to move to safer locations. 

“If we remove them they’re just going to come back,” Seetoo said. “We have to find a solution that would permanently remove homeless encampments from our beaches. I’ll never halt enforcement. Our beaches are never going to look like Venice. We’re going to work with the community and make sure everyone can enjoy coming to Malibu.”

If an unhoused person refuses to leave, then Seetoo said she calls LASD’s Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) and The People Concern, a service contracted through the city that works to find housing.

Compassion for people living under difficult circumstances is taken into account, and Seetoo clarified there is not one standard policy. 

“Each case is different,” she said. “There may be mental health or physical issues. Some people just want to go home. People have different needs and we try to work with them to find a permanent solution.” 

But she emphasized, “If it’s fire season and they’re in the canyons, they’re going immediately. We have an ordinance for that.” Seetoo touted the “strides we’ve made on PCH,” removing permanent RVs from the roadside. 

She also clarified a misstatement insinuating she has a different homeless policy for Calabasas. 

“That’s not correct,” she said about Calabasas. “We do the same thing. We educate, give resources, outreach, and we’re trying to help people find a way off the street especially during this cold weather.”

In reference to what’s known as the “Boise decision,” Seetoo explained, “Legally I have to offer them [homeless] a bed. If the beds are full, I’m not going to be able to cite and arrest somebody for the MCO. So, we use outreach and HOST to address the situation. We’re still enforcing, it’s just different. The HOST team eventually is able to remove homeless encampments like the one at Surfrider.”

The Malibu Times spoke with Lieutenant William Kitchin of LASD’s HOST team, who said his team is in Malibu at least twice a week to address homeless issues. Kitchin oversees 22 deputies who work with the Malibu/Lost Hills division “that are out there all the time.” 

If local deputies identify the need, HOST Deputies team up with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) as a co-response model.

HOST specializes in encampments of five or more. The team makes an assessment of mental health and other issues including if there are pets that most people refuse to part with. 

“We’ll make a deal with animal control that they’ll watch their dog if they take shelter,” Kitchin said. 

The Boise decision ruled “you cannot criminalize for merely sleeping or camping in public when there’s no alternative bed available, but if they’re illegally parked, drunk in public, or other infractions, that doesn’t apply,” Kitchin clarified. “There’s a lot involved when it comes to personal property, making sure the folks are treated with dignity and respect and treated constitutionally. We can’t just throw away their things. We’re not talking about things that are soiled or filthy. We go through an extensive process.” 

Kitchin emphasized, “In Malibu we are very concerned about the severe fire danger.” HOST has been combing the canyons looking for encampments to ensure the safety of the community. 

Malibu City Manager Steve McClary said the assertion that the Sheriff’s Department halts homeless enforcement when the ASLs are full was misreported. 

“Obviously the Sheriff’s Department has to work within the confines of the law, but there’s been no change in terms of our policy or the Sheriff’s Department policy in ending their enforcement,” he said. “I work very closely with Capt. Seetoo and Lt. Dustin Carr and we’re in daily, if not weekly, contact about everything that’s going on in Malibu and the public safety needs here. I think there was a misunderstanding on what the limitations are in terms of enforcement. The ASLs give us more tools in the tools box to be able to offer people something and then, of course, if they’re not willing to take that then it becomes a different story.”

If anyone in the community wants to make an outreach request for unsheltered neighbors go to LA-HOP.org.