Volunteers were at Corpus Christi Church at 5 a.m. January 25.
They received assignments, and signed waivers before walking the streets, hills, parks and beaches of Pacific Palisades for the annual LAHSA homeless count – this year called “Dave’s Count” in honor of long-time Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness (PPTFH) board founder, David Morena, who passed away on January 7.
Volunteers walked in the brush on either side of Temescal Canyon Road, under the Via de las Olas Bluffs, along the trail between Chautauqua and Potrero and along Pacific Coast Highway. Social workers hired by the PPTFH, and the Los Angeles Police Department officers accompanied volunteers in some areas.
Reported on January 29, 2015, were 70 homeless tents, 74 in makeshift shelters and 54 in cars/RVs. The total was 198.
Eight years later, there were no tents or shelters reported, and the number of homeless living in vehicles, mostly along Pacific Coast Highway and Palisades Drive, totaled about 30.
LAPD’s Officer Adam Margin, who participated this morning, knew many of those living in vehicles. He was part of a team that included Greg Morena (dad David, helped found the task force), this editor and a new social worker, Markia Haskins. Margin and Haskins had several conversations about people in need and what services might be offered.
During the count, one man living in an RV, sought out this volunteer, and wanted to know how the count worked, and said he wanted to find a home for his family.
Instantly, he was introduced to Haskins and a meeting arranged for Thursday.
It is important to highlight the difference between a large bureaucratic organization and a volunteer organization where residents have “skin in the game.”
Last year LAHSA (Los Angeles Housing Services Authority) introduced an app to count the homeless. The app didn’t work—and especially in areas like Pacific Palisades where cell phone reception is iffy. This year LAHSA introduced a new and improved app, which most local volunteers called problematic, and then stuck to a paper count.
Last year, LAHSA’s a real-time count was released six months later. This year LAHSA has hired a demographer and two data scientists to help “optimize the data analysis process.”
LAHSA promised that they were “developing a new quality assurance process and considering any census tracts with missing data to be uncounted and deploying make-up count teams.”
The maps received here this year from LAHSA had all most all of the census tracts in Pacific Palisades slashed with red lines stating, “do not count.”
When LAHSA was alerted to the mistake, new maps were promised, but never came.
Luckily PPTFH has been doing this so long, they slotted people into locations – and all of Palisades was counted.
If one has never been on a count, the volunteer is asked to observe if there are homeless in a tent or a car. One does not engage the individual and one does not ask how many people are in tent/car/RV. This means count accuracy is questionable, not only here, but citywide.
A man, living in the RV, asked this volunteer this morning, “How can you count my RV as one person, when there are four of us living in there?” Good question – by someone who is not expert but is merely using common sense.
It was explained that all volunteers are supposed to count a tent or auto as “one” because LAHSA then sends out demographers who take sample counts of how many people are in each place and a formula is used to determine a more accurate number.
PACIFIC PALISADES HOMELESS HISTORY
The Hollywood Reporter wrote in November 2015 (“Pacific Palisades Fire Started by the Homeless”) “that the Pacific Palisades has been favored by Hollywood as well as the homeless.
“The fire is burning on same bluffs where hundreds of homeless people reside after police pushed many out of Santa Monica. New signs declaring the hillside brush zone of Palisades Park a ‘very high fire hazard severity zone’ were scheduled to be erected on October 7.”
Many residents who have lived here since 2000, know that Pacific Palisades has struggled to help its homeless, which included a woman giving birth on the hillside below Via de las Olas.
In September 2007, two residents worked to end the homeless encampments between Pacific Coast Highway and the Via de las Olas bluffs. Then, this editor accompanied the Palisades Senior Lead Officer Michael Moore on an encampment clean up.
“The majority of the homeless receive their notice, pack up their stuff and leave the trash for the city to clean up,” Moore said. “They move to a new site. It becomes a game for them.”
“It annoys me that they [the homeless] take their garbage and throw it on the hillside,” Moore said. He also expressed concern about a brush fire starting, given the evidence of cigarettes and alcohol.
Asked what action can be taken if police find someone still there when a sweep takes place, Moore answered: “The city attorney has advised that we have to give them [homeless] every opportunity to comply,” meaning once the police tell them a sweep is on, the transients can still pack up their belongings and walk away. One multi-dwelling camp was so extensive and established that it took almost two hours for the six men to rake up the trash and cart it to a truck.
In March, a transient was killed running across PCH towards the bluffs, and a similar fate befell another transient in June.
In August, restrooms at Temescal Canyon Park, which are less than 100 yards from a children’s play structure, were badly damaged by transients who smashed all the toilets in both bathrooms. The bathrooms have recently been reopened, but when this reporter visited the structure, it was impossible to get into the ladies’ room, because a transient had positioned her possessions by the doorway while she filled water bottles.
In August 11, a homeless man known to be violent by the LAPD and Palisades Patrol was stabbed and killed by another transient, who then ran across PCH and threatened a lifeguard.
A long-abandoned construction shed along Pacific Coast Highway that had been turned into a home by a transient was bulldozed by a Los Angeles Recreation and Parks near the mouth of Potrero Canyon in 2010. Thus ended the homesteading by Tachowa (‘Rollerball’) Covington, following months of complaints by Pacific Palisades residents that the shack was an eyesore. Their next goal is to have the City remove the adjacent water tank, where Covington has also been living.
The parks and streets in Pacific Palisades were overrun with people exhibiting dysfunctional behaviors, such as urinating and defecating, in the streets and by the library and park. One man grabbed a child in front of Noah’s.
More and more public meetings were held, with the same results: the City told residents that police couldn’t arrest, and nothing could be done about the homeless camping on parkland.
But something needed to be done: the area was no longer safe for families.
Since people in Pacific Palisades are generally empathetic, they came up with a plan to form a task force on homelessness. It would be run by volunteers and money would be raised to help hire two social workers, who would approach the homeless and offer them services. It was formed in October 2014.
After several other fires in the bluffs that threatened the homes along Temescal, the Huntington Palisades and by Via de las Olas Bluffs, the task force was able to post signs in 2015: “Restricted Entry, Very High Fire Severity Zone.” Those signs allowed LAPD to escort people out of the area.
PPTFH’s Sharon Kilbride who is now co-president, won Citizen of the Year for her efforts with the homeless in 2015. The Task Force was given a Pride of the Palisades award that same year.
Abandoned campsites were cleaned out below the Huntington Palisades and Via de las Olas. It was a process that took months and garnered a Community Sparkplug award for Tom Creed in 2017. He recruited 30 volunteers, who removed 19 encampments along Temescal Canyon Road, filling a 40-yard dumpster.
Nancy Klopper was selected for the Pride of the Palisades Award work in tracking down the Norwegian parents of a severely mentally ill homeless woman nicknamed “Pretty Blonde.” LA Times columnist Steve Lopez had written a heart wrenching piece.
Kilbride arranged for L.A. Conservation Corps to come clean 16 abandoned campsites under Via de la Olas. Prior to this cleanup, local residents had cleared 14, but the remaining were hidden in steep terrain.
LAPD Officer Rusty Redican and Jimmy Soliman patrolled the hills as part of the beach detail, to make sure that people were not camping.
In July 2022, LAPD had its budget cut and the Commanding Officer Captain Jonathon Tom, suggested that residents reach out to then Councilman Mike Bonin and ask for discretionary funding to keep the beach detail here.
Bonin’s spokesperson responded that no money would go for LAPD, but rather “For the remainder of Councilmember Bonin’s time in office, he is focusing use of his discretionary dollars on efforts to address the homelessness crisis and on strategies to prevent homelessness.”
Bonin has never sent money to PPTFH, a nonprofit.
Captain Tom saw the value in the detail and worked to keep it, which his replacement Captain Craig Hereia has also done.
LAPD Officer Margin Helps the Homeless
In 2022, Officer Margin found a tent in Temescal Canyon Park, just below the xeriscape garden. At first, he assumed it was just a family, who had set up for the day to enjoy the park.
When he stopped by later the tent was still there and he looked inside and saw a bed. He spoke to the family, who had small children, and learned they were indeed homeless.
The father, a dishwasher, had come out several weeks before the family arrived and now, they found themselves camping illegally in Pacific Palisades.
Margin called the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness. Then St. Joseph’s, a nonprofit, dedicated to helping families, was called. (Bonin had given $2.5 million to St. Joseph’s, which went to salaries.)
“They gave us the runaround,” Margin said. The group was told by St. Joseph’s that there was nothing they could give the family that night. “That was the hardest part, they couldn’t help them like they needed to.”
Margin paid for a Motel 6 for the family out of his own pocket that first night.
There continued to be no openings for the family and others helped pay for a motel room. The family has since received $1,000 voucher and Margin said they are going back to New Mexico.
He was later reimbursed by PPTFH, which paid for an additional day. Sharon Kilbride said that Margin didn’t want the task force to pay him back, but “I insisted.”
Unlike LAHSA, whose new director Dr. Va Lecia Adams will receive an annual salary of $430,000, PPTFH volunteers have never received payment for the long hours they work.
When you have time, thank PPTFH co-presidents Sharon Browning and Sharon Kilbride, and this incredible group of Palisadians, who brought to fruition a group of people that help the homeless. They do it through local fundraising and donations because they are committed to “compassionately addressing the serious issues associated with homelessness in the Palisades.”
The PPTFH is the reason that was not a lot to report on this 2023 count, “David’s Count.”