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Six members of the Malibu homeless community, two staff members from St. Joseph Center and the Rev. Paul Elder of Malibu’s St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church (second from left) have started a project to clean up homeless campsites around town every other Thursday.

homeless campsite near Zuma Beach is now a whole lot cleaner, thanks to the efforts of Rev. Paul Elder, Deacon at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, two staff members of St. Joseph Center in Venice and a crew of six Malibu homeless people. The group collected and hauled away about 15 large bags of trash and several pieces of old equipment on July 12.

Elder said he initiated the project to clean up old campsites in the Malibu area at the urging of many in the local homeless community. He’s calling the project “Keep Malibu Clean” and is working with Deputy Mike Treinen of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff Station to identify the campsite locations that need clean-up. He’s also coordinating with Susan Dueñas, the city’s public safety manager. The homeless themselves have also suggested some sites.

Beside Zuma, other campsites on the clean-up list include an area near Tuna Canyon and PCH, a site north of Ralphs, the creek at Trancas and a site known as the “cemetery.”

One of the main roadblocks to doing some of the homeless-related projects Elder wanted to start, including this one, has been the lack of transportation. But when St. Joseph Center came through with the ability to provide vans and drivers once a week, he said the problem was solved.

The campsite clean-up project began on Monday, July 9, when Elder informally put out the word to the Malibu homeless community that he was looking for volunteers. He said anyone interested should meet at the middle steps of the public library parking lot that Thursday at 10 a.m. When the St. Joseph Center van pulled up on July 12, six members of the homeless community were waiting to participate.

“These camps, formerly used by homeless people, present an eyesore and a possible fire danger,” Elder said. “The clean-up work gives these men an opportunity to do some worthwhile activity to benefit the local scene and gain some sense of self-worth, which often is lost because of their circumstances. Most of them want to work, but find it difficult to get jobs because they don’t have a permanent home or transportation.”

Father Paul remarked that, “It was interesting to see how well the men worked together and the humor they all shared.” He was impressed by their enthusiasm and work ethic. 

“What Paul is doing is fantastic,” Dueñas said. “This project is important to the homeless, the community and the environment. It’s good for homeless individuals to contribute toward the betterment of our community by doing something valuable. It may also give some the confidence to accept services, as well as help change some people’s perceptions of the homeless.

“If the city tried to start a program such as [Elder]’s, it would be much more complicated and would take months to implement,” Dueñas continued. “It’s just the reality of government regulations concerning liability, staffing, et cetera, which is why I encouraged [Elder] to run with it. This sort of program is much better managed by a nonprofit group, and [Elder]’s success is proof of that.”

The availability of drivers and vans from St. Joseph also allowed Elder to reinstate Malibu’s “Laundry Love to Go” program, where homeless people are given a ride to a laundromat in Agoura every other week to do their laundry, and the cost of washing machines, dryers and laundry supplies is paid for by St. Aidan’s.

“All of these activities are designed to give the clients a sense of worth that many have lost because of their situation,” Elder said. “Having clean clothes goes a long way to helping a person feel pride again. We give them a chance to be treated as equals, which they are. [Having dirty, smelly clothes] affects the way others see you.

“There are some bad apples among the homeless, but instances of poor behavior by one shouldn’t cause us to condemn all of them,” he continued. “Likewise, people who suffer from mental disabilities should be given compassion.”

The campsite clean-up program is scheduled to work every other Thursday, alternating with the Laundry Love trip. So, the next upcoming clean-ups will be July 26 and August 9. The next two laundry trips will be August 2 and August 16. All leave from the middle steps near the public library on Thursdays at 10 a.m.

Elder said local relief organizations and faith groups are “always looking for additional ways to help.” In addition, he pointed out that, “All our work is designed to make Malibu a better place to live for all its residents.”  

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