Without a Home
The homelessness problem and its solution are more
complicated than most imagine. BY JIM WOOD
Over $18 million a year in
federal, state and county
funds is directed toward
homelessness in Marin.
— considerably overweight, food on his shirt,
stained trousers — Chris was outgoing. He told
me he was 41, had lived all his life in Marin
and had spent the night “sleeping outside, up
by the church.” He also readily admitted to
“some major psychological issues.”
After talking for a while, Chris began to
reveal a victim’s mentality. It seemed every orga-
nization I suggested might help him — REST,
St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room, Ritter Center
— Chris felt would only “hassle” him; make him
do “what they want” him to do, not what he liked
to do. However, Chris did say he might visit St.
Vincent around noon, but he wasn’t sure.
I later learned from Jason Satterfield,
Marin County’s homelessness coordinator,
that the vast differences bet ween John and
Chris illustrate the complexity of the home-
lessness issue. “One solution doesn’t come
close to solving all aspects of the problem,” he
says. According to Satterfield, “over $18 mil-
lion a year in federal, state and county funds is
directed toward homelessness in Marin, both
to keep the problem from becoming greater
and to accommodate those with no housing.”
Currently, Marin has 165 nightly shelter beds
(REST provides an additional 60 beds in winter).
In addition, Marin houses almost 850 individuals
who would other wise be homeless, in a variety of
locations, most of them supervised by Novato’s
Homeward Bound of Marin, an incredibly efficient and effective nonprofit. Satterfield notes
that 2013’s census showed that beyond those
being housed, there were 933 homeless people in
Marin that year and, because of improved survey
techniques, 2015’s numbers will likely be higher.
And if, as many now advocate, a permanent
homeless shelter were built in Marin, would men
like Chris avail themselves of its services? An
equally perplexing question: would such a shelter only cause more homeless people to come to
Marin County seeking benefits available here?
The only sure thing: homelessness is indeed a
perplexing and complex issue, one that calls for
compassion, understanding and patience. That’s
my point of view. What’s yours?
HOMELESSNESS IS ONE of the most complex and perplexing issues of our time,” Larry Meredith, Marin County’s director of Health and Human Services,
told me last week as several dozen volunteers
waited in the January predawn darkness to conduct a census of homeless people in the county.
One reason for this complexity is the
extremely wide spectrum of people often
referred to as “homeless.” Here’s an example:
when I first met John (not his real name), I
thought he was a fellow volunteer. John is a trim,
very well dressed and well-spoken 33-year-old
African-American man who, it turns out, is
homeless. He was being paid to help me find
where other homeless people would likely be
sleeping. Once we started talking, I learned he
has a cellphone and a laptop and his goal in life is
to someday have his writings published.
John was born in New Jersey, lived in Denver
and San Diego and landed in Marin about a year
ago. His problem: while successfully pursuing a
career in market research, he began taking and
depending on an over-the-counter drug that
gave him a hallucinogenic high. He began shoplifting the drug, which landed him in jail and
eventually put his life on the skids — where it
stayed for several years. I could tell John was not
happy without a place to call home. He’s been
sober no w for t wo years and wants a better life.
John spends his weekdays working with
Downtown Streets Team, a group of homeless
men and women who get a stipend for cleaning
up streets and parks in downtown San Rafael.
Also, he’s taking advantage of REST, the rotating emergency shelter program that each winter
night shuttles 60 men and women to a different
Marin church or shelter where they receive a
home-cooked dinner and a safe place to sleep.
Once my time with John had ended, I
encountered Chris (again, not his real name).
By now the sun was up and Chris was sitting on a concrete stoop on Fourth Street
eating what looked and smelled like waste
food. Though his appearance was slovenly
The views and opinions expressed in this
article are those of the author and do not
necessarily reflect the policy or position of
Marin Magazine and its staff.