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To Die Needlessly on the Streets of Marin County

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Marin County | California

On Sunday, street chaplain Paul Gaffney led the 16th annual memorial for people who have died on the streets of Marin County. A group of about 50 met at San Rafael’s Albert Park and walked to the Church of Saint Raphael to hear the names of the dead solemnly read out.

Paul Gaffney leads homeless memorial

The number of people who have died on the streets since 1995 is something like 160. I wonder how many of these victims could have been saved if the good people of Marin had been willing to provide better shelters and permanent housing.

Advocates like the Ritter Center and Homeward Bound of Marin do a good job providing resources for low-income and homeless people but always seem to be fighting an uphill battle trying to convince community leaders, especially downtown business interests, that more is needed.

I’ve listened to endless discussions about how to get homeless persons off the streets and away from places where they sometimes offend the sensitivities of our more genteel Marin population, and for me, it all boils down to housing. Adequate housing and support services for all of Marin’s homeless would certainly be expensive, but would save money in the long run. And more important to me, supportive housing saves lives.

Downtown business interests in San Rafael complain that homeless people are scaring away customers, and therefore hurting profits. The loudest voices suggest that the solution is to throttle homeless services and make it uncomfortable for homeless people to hang out downtown. These voices don’t say so directly, at least publicly, but the message is clear: if programs like St. Vincent’s Dining Room, Mill Street Center, and the Ritter Center would just go away, the problem would be solved. This is a short-sighted, selfish solution at best.

I’m downtown often and I’ve never seen anything offensive or that would cause me to not return. I believe that any loss of  revenues there has nothing to do with homeless people, but to an inability to compete with nearby upscale shopping areas. To put it simply, the homeless are being scapegoated.

People will continue to die needlessly on the streets of Marin County until the public comes to expect that all citizens, no matter what their station in life, should have a safe place to live.

Paul Gaffney prepares readers

The Rev. Paul Gaffney reviews the names of the dead with memorial participants who will later read the names in the courtyard of the Church of Saint Raphael.

Kelso hands out flowers

Kelso P. Martinis hands out flowers to participants in the memorial service for homeless people who have died on the streets of Marin County.

Church gathering for the homeless memorial

Memorial participants in the courtyard of the Church of Saint Raphael listen to the names of the dead being read. Sunday, July 21, 2013.

Homeless women living in the weeds at the side of the road.

Mary shouldn’t have to be living in the weeds just a few feet from Andersen Drive in the heart of Marin County.