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Lonely Deaths on the Streets of San Rafael

with 8 comments

I’m pleased to see how many people read Rev. Paul Gaffney’s remarks in my last post. I even got a call from City Hall assuring me that Paul’s concerns would be addressed at the next meeting of the San Rafael homeless subcommittee.

But I was sadly reminded Sunday that after years of meetings homeless people continue to die on the streets of San Rafael. They die, cold and alone, because too many in the greater community see them as eyesores and nuisances rather than brothers and sisters.

The Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy held its 15th annual Memorial Procession this past Sunday. The group met at Albert Park and walked to the St. Raphael Church in San Rafael.

Memorial Procession through the streets of San Rafael

Memorial Procession in honor of those who have died on the streets of Marin County.

The names of one hundred fifty-five people who have died on the streets of Marin County since 1995 were read and honored. I couldn’t stop wondering how many would be alive today if they had been offered adequate housing, or even a place to get out of the rain.

Rev. Paul Gaffney and Fr. John Balleza

Rev. Gaffney and Fr. John Balleza welcome those who have come to honor Brothers and Sisters who have died without shelter in Marin County.

Reading the names of people who have died on the streets of Marin County

Reading the names of those who have passed on the streets of Marin County.

Homeless in Marin

Members of the community gather at St. Raphael Church to remember the dead.

I’ve been told that the next meeting of the San Rafael homeless subcommittee will be more productive. Among other things, I hope they consider seeking funds from the business community to support a downtown outreach worker who could direct homeless citizens to appropriate services and help keep the streets welcoming to all. This resource person could be attached to the Ritter Center or St. Vincent’s.


8 Responses

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  1. Here’s hoping the subcommittee does more than bellyache about mess. It’s shaming that even rich countries with growing inequalities in wealth show so little compassion, either collectively or as individuals, except for a few Rev Gaffneys. I think a lot of us probably do care but don’t quite know how to help feasibly. (Offering the guest room too scary or too all-consuming?) Maybe the committee could invite some homeless people to attend and make suggestions.

    Suzanne Miller

    July 31, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    • I’ve often thought about bringing a homeless person home. I just haven’t had the nerve. If I had the money, I’d buy a large vacant lot in downtown San Rafael and let people camp on it.

      The Ritter Center, a very good program helping the homeless, might host a meeting of its clients and members of the San Rafael homeless subcommittee. We’ll see if anything comes of this.

      Ron Greene

      August 3, 2012 at 9:06 am

      • One big problem with turning over a spare room would be that, however good the intentions, it’s hard to give a visitor real autonomy. If I were homeless, I might prefer sovereignty over even the little space of a tent to having to mind my p’s and q’s in somebody else’s house. (Not forever, of course — we all need access to some sort of real housing.) I hope the Ritter Center listens and has the resources to act on what they learn.

        Suzanne Miller

        August 5, 2012 at 7:15 am

      • I think it’s pretty unrealistic to expect people to take homeless people into their homes, but it’s a thought. Someone with a very large property might allow supervised camping. The Ritter Center in San Rafael could host a few clients on cold and rainy nights, especially when other housing possibilities are exhausted. They have fenced yard that could be made safe at night.

        Ron Greene

        August 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

  2. Thank you for the wonderful photos, Ron. I helped set up and also participated in the Annual Homeless Memorial Procession this past Sunday. It was a celebration of life but also a grim reminder of mortality through suffering.

    I wish to focus on your words above: “…after years of meetings homeless people continue to die on the streets of San Rafael.”

    I believe this statement to be accurate. I also believe that accuracy is based on the fact that here are practically ONLY meetings. There is little positive action by the community at large other than persecution by police, often forced into acting so by “concerned citizen” calls. While our local charitable organizations struggle to provide more and more of their specific services as our homeless population continue to rise, homelessness itself seems to be more an element of talk rather than walk thus far. Many ‘landed’ members of our community would love to help but until a city-wide (I could say County, State, etc.) program of action that meets the specific needs of homelessness is developed and activated, there is very little a compassionate person can do to help.

    I do not believe it is fair to our police department, city council nor county court and jail to be towing the line here. I hold this is unfair to those city and county workers who deal with increased workloads, unfair to homeless who develop criminal records merely from not having property to reside upon*. I even perceive a moral unfairness to taxpayers who fund a revolving jail door system rather than a practical program of solutions.

    Yes, we need to become aware by talking and sharing information. Yes, we need to hold meetings to determine problems and organize solutions. No, as long as meeting and talking – or complaining as is often the case at these meetings – is all that occurs here, we will not affect the epidemic of people forced to live and die outdoors. We have tried using our justice system to solve problems associated with homelessness. That solution is not working.

    No matter how angry people become, criminalizing our poverty stricken fellows is costing us all too much in money, energy and suffering…

    …and then people die.

    * While homelessness itself is not illegal, many of the activities necessary for survival and a lifestyle while living in public are citable and jail able offenses: loitering, littering, trespassing, sleeping in parks, consumption of alcoholic beverages in public, excreting in public, indecent exposure (associated with bathing one’s self), and a host of others as determined by a situation. All of these activities are completely legal in the sanctum of one’s own home. These activities while homeless often lead to calls, citations, arrests and jail time that might not occur at all IF THE PERSON PROSECUTED SIMPLY HAD A HOME.

    • I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. A few hundred more like you and we might be able to get something done in Marin County. Current leadership in the county is focusing on permanent housing solutions, which is fine, but in the process I worry that temporary solutions are being neglected. People are still sleeping in the wind and the cold every night.

      I’m pleased that you appreciate my photographs. I started my blog as a way of sharing photos with a few friends. It’s nice to find that the pictures are reaching a wider audience.

      Ron Greene

      August 3, 2012 at 9:19 am

  3. Thanks a ton for taking free time in order to publish “Lonely Deaths on the
    Streets of San Rafael | Ron Greene’s Blog”. Many thanks once again ,Rufus


    July 3, 2013 at 4:42 am

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