I was wrong.
I thought about it at 5 a.m. this morning as I participated in the 2022 Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority homeless count.
I thought that forming a Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness (PPTFH), funded by local private organization to pay for two social workers would not help the overwhelming homelessness that was here in 2014.
I was wrong. Even the LAPD realizes the difference that volunteers and this nonprofit have made in reducing homelessness.
This morning Sharon Kilbride, who has volunteered with the PPTFH since its inception, was honored. West Los Angeles Commanding Officer Captain Jonathan Tom presented Kilbride with “The Captain’s Award.”
“In appreciation of your service and commitment to West Los Angeles’ diverse communities and the officers that serve them,” the plaque reads. “You are truly one of our Unsong Heroes.”
Initially the task force was founded because Pacific Palisades was overrun by the unhoused, the mentally ill, transients and addicts. The hillsides and brush surrounding the town were filled with illegal campsites.
Between 2005 and 2013, I penned numerous stories about those living in the bluffs – and the numbers were increasing. A woman gave birth to twins below Via de las Olas. Many may remember Rollerball, who lived in a water tank between Potrero and Temescal—or the man who lived in the entrance to the Huntington Bluffs off PCH—and the pornography on “his cement walls.”
I was offered a beer by the “three Musketeers” three guys who lived in lower Temescal Canyon and spent their days on the picnic tables by the playground.
In January 2014, a fire set by transients in the Via de las Olas area, evacuated people and threatened homes along Corona Del Mar in the Huntington Palisades.
A month later, a transient assaulted a young mother in the Village area. A few months later a man and his son were walking by Noah’s Bagels and a transient grabbed the kid.
In September 14, a man’s bare butt was photographed as he slept on a sidewalk in the village and the photo went viral.
I spent a Friday night with seven homeless people in a one block area on either side of Gladstone’s restaurant (on PCH at Sunset). Some of these transients lacked teeth and others had visible sores and they had come to the beach from Burbank, the San Fernando Valley, Kentucky, Boston and New Orleans.
Residents went to community council meetings, asking for help from the City.
But, West L.A. neighborhood prosecutor Claudia Martin said the City’s hands were tied because of the 2006 case (Jones v. City of Los Angeles) filed by the ACLU and upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court. [“The Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying or sleeping on a public sidewalk that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without a shelter in the City of Los Angeles,” Judge Wardlaw wrote.] Martin emphasized, “LAPD has to enforce the rules in the Palisades the same way it does on Skid Row.”
A few residents thought hiring social workers might help get people off the streets. Nearly $120,000 would have to be raised.
PPTFH members went to local organizations to raise money. It was a tough sell. There were no guarantees, but the feeling was, “We have to try something.”
I, like many, were dubious about the model working.
This editor volunteered in the 2015 Greater Los Angeles Homeless count, the first held in Pacific Palisades. At least 70 individuals, and an additional 74 tents, cars vans and makeshift shelters were counted.
A high concentration of homeless encampments was between Chautauqua and Temescal Canyon Road—along PCH and below the bluffs. This stretch was deemed too dangerous for resident volunteers and the count was done by LAPD.
Palisades Senior Lead Officer Michael Moore said that nine encampments were spotted below Via de las Olas. Another 15 were between Chautauqua and Potrero Canyon behind the wall.
Also in 2015, largely due to the efforts of Bruce Schwartz (PPTFH member), “Restricted Entry, Very High Fire Severity Zone” signs were posted on land around Pacific Palisades. That sign no longer allowed camping in the brush and it allowed police to ask people to move.
Social workers started outreach.
Resident Tom Creed won a 2017 Sparkplug for his efforts to clear 45 encampments below the bluffs. The first site had a 70” television screen, two sofas, beds and clothing. “There were layers and layers of garbage,” Creed said. “We must have bagged about 70 bags of garbage.”
But only 10 sites were cleared that day and volunteers had to come back. Twelve more sites were cleaned out with help from Recreation and Parks, which brought in a bulldozer and three trucks.
There were still 23 sites left in the brush below Via las Olas but were on extremely steep terrain and needed to be cleared by city workers – and they were.
Next, Creed orchestrated a cleanup along Temescal Canyon Road with 29 volunteers. The 18 campsites along the east side were so deep in garbage that the group filled a 40-cubic-yard dumpster.
Now PPTFH locates, cleans and removes about 36 new abandoned homeless encampments annually.
Today, this editor helped count along Temescal and along PCH/beach to Vons. There were about 15 individuals spotted and another 15 in tents/cars/makeshift shelters. In many areas today there were no homeless counted. “Zero is a good number,” one volunteer said.
This editor is glad there is a model that can work. (Visit pptfh.org.)
(Editor’s note: a special thanks to Kim Clary and David Moreno for organizing the volunteers for the annual count.)