Malibu Declares Local Emergency Over Homelessness, LASD Continues Homeless Cleanups

By Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
August 30, 2021 Updated: August 30, 2021

The Los Angeles Sheriff Department (LASD) is preparing to deploy members of the Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) to Malibu after the city council declared a local emergency over homelessness last week.

Malibu’s City Council unanimously approved the resolution to declare a state of local emergency over the city’s homeless encampments, and to create a program to address the potential fire and safety hazards on Aug. 23.

“To prevent the occurrences of fire and loss of life and property, homeless encampments are prohibited in areas designated as a VHFHSZ [very high fire hazard severity zone] in Malibu,” the resolution stated.

Since the beginning of 2021, there have been 17 fires in Malibu attributed to homeless encampments, according to the resolution. As of Aug. 23, the entire city of Malibu was considered to be under high risk. In January 2020, LAHSA reported that 239 homeless people were living in Malibu.

“As more individuals live unhoused in areas designated as VHFHSZ, the risk of vegetation fires started by warming, cooking fires, and other flammable materials increases, especially in the fall when the nights are cooler and Santa Ana winds may be present,” the resolution said.

“Unhoused individuals living in VHFHSZ are also at significant risk of loss of life due to being trapped by wildfires since they are not likely to receive traditional emergency alerts sent through cell phones. In addition, individuals who are attempting to leave Malibu during an emergency wildfire evacuation could be trapped by fires that start from the ember cast that precedes the fire front in a wind driven fire.”

Malibu’s Public Safety Manager Susan Duenas said during the council meeting the resolution was not a ban on encampments altogether.

“This policy…ensures the city does not criminalize lying, sitting, or sleeping in public when a person has no access to temporary shelter,” Duenas said. “The council should also…leave an adequate portion of the city where a person lacking access to adequate shelter will not be subject to criminal penalties for the act of lying, sitting, or sleeping in the city of Malibu.”

Malibu residents called in to express their concern for homeless individuals once the Santa Ana winds begin blowing in the next month and a half.

Resident Kay Gabbard said during the meeting that getting people out of high-fire areas is a high priority, but the action should be followed by an “intense commitment” to face-to-face services.

“We know that it can take as many as 15 interactions or more with one unhoused person to get them to trust that we have something to offer them to get them the medical, mental health, occupational or housing help the desperately need,” Gabbard said. “We know that most of them have been disappointed and let down by their family or the system too many times to count or even begin to understand, but we also know that our outreach team…and the newly formed task force will be ready to actively engage the newly displaced unhoused and help them pick up the pieces of their lives.”

“I wish we had the resources in Malibu to really help people but it’s a bigger issue than a little city of under 10,00 people, so please pass the ordinance,” resident Scott Ditrich said, also calling on the surrounding county and city to offer assistance. “The homeless task force is going to struggle to try to find solutions, but we need the help of the counties and the cities around us and they don’t seem very anxious to do that.”

In an effort to answer Malibu’s call for assistance, the LASD’s HOST team, along with Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) and local law enforcement officers, met with Malibu and Calabasas city officials to discuss homeless encampments in the city on Aug. 24. The LASD tweeted on Aug. 24 that the HOST team is preparing to deploy officers and resources to Malibu.

This comes after the LASD and HOST last week continue to clean up and provide assistance to those living in encampments in Lario Park, located along the San Gabriel Valley River Trail. Since April, HOST has done more than 30 outreaches in Lario Park, and 40 homeless individuals have accepted resources and shelter, LASD officials told ABC7 earlier this month.

“Many of those we contacted accepted referrals to ancillary resources. We hope locals can enjoy safer and cleaner parks, beaches and communities. There’s more locations HOST will be visiting in the near future,” L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva wrote of the Lario Park cleanup in an LASD Facebook post.

The LASD, Malibu city councilmembers Karen Ferrer and Mikke Pierson, and organization The People Concern, did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline.

Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte