The following is an excerpt from the November 2017 Pacific Palisades Taskforce on Homelessness Newsletter. Read the Full November 2017 Newsletter Here.
The CLEANup Club: Lessons from Temescal Canyon
Nina Kidd, PPTFH Communications Committee
PPTFH’s third CLEANup Day, October 14, was the most productive yet, with debris from 20 abandoned encampments cleared from lower Temescal Canyon. Last May, when our enforcement team, partnering with our outreach workers and LAPD, moved the last long-term homeless people from the Via bluffs and the slopes of lower Temescal Canyon Road, the cleanup process began.
The third CLEANup Day, October 14, was the most—er—sweeping yet, with debris from 20 encampments cleared from lower Temescal. After four hours with shovels and rakes, sweating and grimy, teams of PPTFH volunteers stopped only when they had filled the city’s 40-foot-long rolling dumpster to the top.
As I scanned the list of 30 workers, I was struck by the range of Palisadians and friends represented: dads, couples, environmentalists, an editor, a City Council deputy, Rec and Parks workers, Rusty and Inez from our LAPD beach patrol, and a homeowners association officer from Santa Monica Canyon. Ages ranged from 27 to nearly 80.
Partway down the list I saw a volunteer with a Pasadena address, Bert Muto. I was surprised, and asked around. In 2016, Albert Angelo (Bert) Muto wanted to live in Santa Monica, but the rents were rising faster than he could keep up. A tent on the beach was too dangerous, even when he moved to Will Rogers State Beach. Cops who came by to enforce the beach curfew suggested he go up into the bluffs. But Bert was wary. After 12 years in prison he knew the drug and crime scene among people on the street. For a while, Bert moved farther up the beach. He took odd jobs. But trying to keep himself fed, groomed, and in clean clothes took almost a day’s work by itself. He found he could sleep more safely at the Palisades Rec Center.
In the spring of 2016, Bert met Palisades businessman Brian Shea, who introduced him to Maryam Zar, then Chair of PPTFH. Bert was ready for what PPTFH had to offer. He currently rents rooms in Pasadena and operates a handyman/yard service with his SUV. He checks in regularly with Bianca Smith, his employment specialist at Chrysalis.
Bert noticed the October 14 CLEANup online under “volunteer opportunities.” That day he arrived with his shiny electric hedge trimmer and went to work. Here was a guy who drove across town on a Saturday morning to give his time away for free because he knew he could help. His presence reminded me that, for all of us, membership in the human club is confirmed when we know we are of use.
As the workers came back from the hillsides with stories of what they had seen and smelled, they were smiling. “Call us for the next one,” they said. That day we were all members of the helping club. Meeting Bert reminded me of the reason it feels so good. There’s hope, folks! And, yes, several more CLEANups are planned.