Pacific Palisades neighbors fight homelessness with their pocketbooks

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Glanda Sherman has a big assignment: get the estimated 190 homeless off the streets off a 23-square mile stretch of Los Angeles' most coveted real estate. 

On a recent morning, she trudged through the marine layer drifting over an area called "The Village" in Pacific Palisades, looking for homeless men and women.

"Basically I’m going to approach them and say ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ That’s the in-line," she said.

Sherman, an outreach worker for the non-profit homeless provider OPCC, was hired as part of an unusual collaboration, dating back about six months.

Last year, a group of neighbors, frustrated with the area's growing homeless population and the city's lack of action, set up a GoFundMe page, raised $125,000, and brought in Sherman and a fellow outreach worker to try to take on the homeless problem themselves.

“The community as a whole, some of them compassionately want to help the homeless, and possibly some of them just don’t want to see the homeless here on the streets,” Sherman said.

RELATED: Lawmakers and advocates work to help homeless Angelenos

Either way, Maryam Zar, outgoing chair of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, said, the community realized it was time to do something other than their usual reaction: calling in the fire department or the police department to search out people living on the beach, in the cliffs, and scattered in parks. 

“It was really a moment where people were noticing more and more homeless people in and around their homes, or where they went to eat or sit down at a care or go to the beach,” Zar said. “It had become a little more intrusive of their lives.”

Sherman's job is to lead a new approach, as one of two outreach workers offering services to Pacific Palisades' homeless that could lead to permanent housing. 

Bert Angelo is one of the people who've benefited from the program. 

Angelo moved to Southern California from the East Coast. He expected to use his savings to rent an apartment, but couldn’t afford one. Instead, he moved from street to street, shelter to service, until another man suggested he stay on the beach. 

“It was known that it was lenient for everybody to pitch their tent and stay down there,” Angelo said. 

He bought a sleeping bag, an air mattress, and a small mesh tent from REI and moved in. He’d pitch the tent late at night, and leave early in the morning—and he said he liked living there. 

“I got a lot of nice sun, I had beachfront property,” Angelo said. “And a beautiful view.”

Word began to spread, and more people started living on the beach, too. It started getting noisier, and more crowded. Sometimes, there were fights.

The community called for a roundup, and the police came and pushed out everyone living on the beach—but Angelo, and many others didn’t leave the Palisades. 

“I said to myself, if they’re going to kick us off the beach, I’m going to move right into their community,” Angelo said. “So I moved up the hill, right into their little town.”

When he heard about OPCC —some concerned community members put them in touch—he was sleeping in a tent on the tennis courts behind the recreation center. He got temporary housing in Santa Monica, a job, and is saving up for an apartment of his own.

Even with an unclear future, Angelo is a success of the program, and a rare one so far. 

OPCC’s reports show 15 people have moved off the streets of Pacific Palisades since January, but at least two of them have already returned. Two have been placed in permanent housing.

OPCC Executive Director John Maceri said that figure is somewhat misleading. 

“It’s not just about inputs. It’s also about outputs,” Maceri explained. “We’re also measuring success by the number of people the team is contacting.”

Sherman and her fellow outreach worker have made contact with at least 100 people so far. She said homeless outreach is by its nature, slow going. 

“We’re working with a population that has been minimized, marginalized, and somewhat dehumanized, so people need to know they can trust you,” Sherman explained. “Then once you get to build that relationship, you get to know the person, you can begin to offer them services.”

Despite its seemingly slow start, the Pacific Palisades approach is being looked at by other beach towns. A group of Malibu residents has already decided to replicate the approach. They're over halfway to their fundraising goal of $200,000.

Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Skid Row's Union Rescue Mission, called the approach "unique."

Clearly, he said, not every community can replicate the efforts themselves. 

“But what I like is the heart of it and the fact that they have the heart to note just ignore the issue, but to put their money where their mouth is and address the issue," he said. 

To those who can afford to take action, he said, it's helpful when they try. 

Series: Homelessness in California

On Wednesday, KPCC listeners and readers will find special coverage of homelessness in Los Angeles County. It’s part of a first-ever statewide media project aiming to focus the public and policymakers’ attention on how to solve that growing problem. 

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