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Neighboring communities criticize Malibu's plan to deal with homelessness

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Every one of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County is affected by unhoused populations. But they don't all deal with the crisis in the same way. Anna Scott from member station KCRW reports on one plan in an exclusive southern California beach community that doesn't sit well with its neighbors.

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ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Malibu is known as a beautiful getaway for locals and for tourists, like Zebedee Pedersen (ph).

ZEBEDEE PEDERSEN: We're having a picnic on the beach and a can of wine, which maybe isn't such a good idea. But why not?

SCOTT: Malibu is a long, skinny city stretched out along the coast and sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains.

PEDERSEN: We've been turning around and looking at the hills and trying to work out which houses we would want to live in.

SCOTT: This is one side of Malibu, dreamy landscapes, mansions. There's another side. Malibu is a surprisingly rural place. And if you're experiencing homelessness, it's downright rugged.

AARON MARSHALL: I don't got nowhere to lay my head and feel at ease. Yeah. It's really stressful - just keep walking around all day.

SCOTT: Aaron Marshall walked to Malibu a few days ago from the city of LA and is now one of more than 200 unhoused people estimated to camp out on the streets and in the canyons of Malibu on any given night. That's a tiny fraction of the more than 66,000 people unhoused throughout LA County. But it's nearly 50% more than Malibu saw just a few years ago, which City Councilmember Bruce Silverstein says has people worried about public safety, campfires getting out of control. And, he says, Malibu should remain exclusive.

BRUCE SILVERSTEIN: I am able to live here because I've worked hard all my life and I can afford to. If I couldn't afford a house in Malibu, I wouldn't have a house in Malibu. I'd live in another city that's less expensive to live in. And I think the unhoused population is in the same boat.

SCOTT: Malibu has laws against camping in public spaces. But they're tough to enforce because of a federal court ruling that says cities can't ticket or arrest people for sleeping outside unless there's shelter available. That's why city officials decided to pursue setting up shelter beds and voted to put them someplace outside city limits and transport people there. Silverstein, an attorney, says this fulfills the city's legal obligations. And beyond that, why should Malibu be responsible for people who have walked there from other parts of LA County?

SILVERSTEIN: The people living unhoused in Malibu are not really, quote, "Malibu's homeless," unquote. They didn't lose their home in Malibu.

SUE HIMMELRICH: If each of us took responsibility for the people in our jurisdiction, I think it would be a lot easier for all of us to have a comprehensive approach.

SCOTT: Sue Himmelrich is the mayor of Santa Monica, a city just south of Malibu. She says treating a regional crisis city by city just won't work.

HIMMELRICH: Sixty thousand people cannot be solved by Santa Monica or by Malibu. My view is that we're all in LA County, and we are obligated to all pitch in with this crisis.

SCOTT: These types of disagreements aren't just between cities. Even the city of LA's 15 council districts have different approaches and are reluctant to shelter people from other districts.

MARSHALL: I guess there's a bad stigma attached to homelessness, you know? A lot of us are fighting, like, drug problems. And so, yeah, I understand why they're trying to push us out.

SCOTT: Back in Malibu, Aaron Marshall empathizes with housed residents. And if he could go to a shelter right now, he would.

MARSHALL: If they could put anything - I don't know - close enough for us to get to on foot or - you know what I mean? That would be nice. I don't want to get a tent and just live in the woods, you know? That doesn't seem right, you know?

SCOTT: But to get a shelter bed, he'll first need a ride to a different city.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Malibu.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOW DANCING SOCIETY'S "A SONG THAT WILL HELP YOU REMEMBER TO FORGET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.