The City of Malibu needs to immediately establish a homeless hotline to inform Malibu citizens about what actions they can take when they are concerned about homeless persons activities or welfare and help is urgently needed. Further, the city should have employees who can respond to urgent situations quickly. The actions are imperative because, although there are two patrol cars monitoring Malibu, the closest sheriff’s station that could deploy more units is in Calabasas at the Lost Hills Station. Recently, a homeless individual attacked beachgoers with a machete on Dan Blocker Beach, seriously injuring one victim. A few weeks ago, an employee of the toy store in Malibu was verbally and physically assaulted by an unhoused individual—this as she biked to her workplace on a Sunday morning! If she and others had someone from the city to call immediately, help might have arrived quicker.
It goes without saying that homeless individuals are not all bad and often need help, which they receive daily from The People Concern outreach workers contracted by the city and from various nonprofit organizations.
But what about the men, women and children of Malibu? The only details addressing the Malibu citizenry in the homeless plan recently developed by the city were: the homeless task force would like to change the public’s perception of low-income housing; to plan workshops, to create questions, to create a website, to promote their efforts through social media; and finally, to promote hotlines for the homeless living in Malibu. Clearly, the safety of citizens has yet to fully register with the Malibu homeless strategic plan.
Homeless people themselves are in danger as well. This year alone, eight unhoused individuals in Malibu have died, according to Susan Dueñas, Malibu public safety manager, who states that they often die of a lack of medical attention, are hit by cars, and overdose on drugs. The Malibu Times recently reported that, in the span of 30 days, four homeless people were killed or died in the area. Dueñas says that homeless individuals often are attacked by regular citizens in other neighboring cities. Such unfortunate occurrences could easily happen in Malibu.
Clearly, there is a potential for dangerous confrontations between citizens and the homeless in Malibu. The city needs to acknowledge that and immediately take action by taking initiative and empowering the citizens by providing resources to address immediate concerns when unhoused individuals act unlawfully or are in need of assistance. The city’s new social media effort should clearly educate the general public about the best practices for dealing with encounters with obviously dangerous or erratic individuals.
Consider that currently, the main point of contacts for dealing with the homeless in Malibu are highly trained professionals and experienced homeless advocates. The average Malibu citizen is not equipped to understand the complexities of a homeless person’s circumstances or how to deal with their possible proclivity for violence. However, Malibuites must live near and interact with unhoused persons. Citizens should be offered widely publicized classes about what signs to look for so they can avoid possibly dangerous confrontations with homeless persons and about how to de-escalate a dangerous situation. Free self-defense classes should also be highly promoted or at a minimum, the city should offer professional assault crisis training currently being used in some public schools in California to give ordinary citizens a fair chance in faced with a very possible bad “situation”.
If the city establishes a hotline to call when there is a possibility or existence of violence involving an unhoused individual, informative signs should be established in many strategic places with the hotline number. All public sector sites in Malibu, such as schools, libraries, parks, and beaches should provide the citizenry with such contact information. When a person Googles the words “homeless Malibu,”, the first thing that should pop up is that number. Currently, if one Googles “suicide,” a huge blue set of numbers to call is instantly shown and the site states “Help is available.” This could easily be accomplished in Malibu and Ms. Dueñas opines that it is an excellent proposal.
The City of Malibu’s Homelessness Strategic Plan is a good starting point to address homelessness. However, concrete and impactful actions need to be taken. The time for studying the problem has long passed. The Homelessness Task Force can start by recommending that the city immediately implement those proposed policies. It is time for them to seriously acknowledge and protect the human rights of everyone in Malibu.
Tara Buran and Lindsay Shelton