helping struggling households maintain a stable
living situation. This approach has been successful in Sonoma and Santa Clara counties.
Shelter diversion programs find people housing
outside the shelter system, providing services
to stabilize their situation or help them move
into permanent housing. With half the county’s
homeless population in the transitional stage,
bolstering these kinds of efforts means fewer
people entering the shelter system or seeking
help with other basic needs. Organizations like
Ritter Center, Adopt A Family and County of
Marin Health and Human Services aid individuals in these situations.
MENTAL HEALTH CARE AND
DRUG COUNSELING SERVICES
As of the 2015 PI T survey, there were 66 homeless veterans in Marin. Unfortunately, for
a large number of them, the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders did
not recognize post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) as a legitimate illness until 1980, leaving symptoms untreated for years and vets to
their own devices.
The reality is that approximately 1 in 5
adults in the United States — almost 44 million — suffer from mental illness in a given
year. These are the reported numbers; they are
likely higher. Destigmatizing mental health
issues is integral to ending the problems that
can lead to homelessness.
Operating under this principle, the County
of Marin Health and Human Services, with its
Meaningful Mental Health TV series, is aiming to increase public awareness on the subject
and encouraging intervention before a crisis
develops. Additionally, the city of San Rafael,
which has the biggest homeless population in
the county, created a Mental Health Resource
Officer position in the police department to provide a specialized approach to those in need.
But you can’t talk about mental health issues
and not discuss the role that drugs play. The war
on drugs is widely seen as a loss, and an opioid
epidemic is destroying communities across the
country: when it comes to addiction, no one is
immune. Instead of criminalizing addiction
and funneling drug users to the streets and into
prison, experts say, comprehensive rehab and
recovery programs can get people the help they
need. Providing drug-counseling and detox
services outside of the emergency room can be a
lot more cost effective: detoxing at a hospital in
Marin comes to about $2,000 per day, or about
10 times the cost of care for a night at a detox
center such as Helen Vine, the only nonmedical
detox center in the county.
Salt Lake City, Utah, is often pointed to as
the city that cured homelessness, getting 91
percent of people off the streets by providing
them with housing. Utah discovered that like
drug counseling, providing housing can actually save the public money.
Relying on emergency services is not
cheap — the worst-off chronic inebriates cost
Marin County $60,000 a year in emergency
room visits, disturbance calls and use of other
resources. Housing this same person would
cost about half that and eliminate a lot of the
stressful aspects of homelessness that exacerbate the existing conditions.
Of course, between Marin’s famed open
spaces and NIMBYism, there is the issue of
where to house individuals. “In order to enact
large-scale change there needs to be cooperation on an executive level,” says San Rafael’s
first-ever director of homeless planning and
outreach hired last year, Andrew Hening.
“This includes partnerships between county
services and businesses.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. What
works for Utah may not work for Marin.
Business owners and residents’ feelings on the
issue run the gamut; many are both frustrated
and concerned about the people lying on the
street. Results from this year’s count will be
available in May and should give a clearer picture of the current situation. But looking further
out, what can be done to fix an ineffective system
that’s allowing homelessness to happen?
The federal appointment of Ben Carson to
head HUD and the planned dismantling of the
Affordable Care Act has many experts in the field
worried. But Hening thinks much can be accomplished at the local level before the situation get
truly dire: “Oftentimes in life, it’s a crisis that
mobilizes us into action.” m
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
These are just some of the many organizations helping to put an end to homelessness
throughout the county. If you know someone
in need of behavioral, recovery or social
services, direct them to Marin Health and
Human Services. marinhhs.org
Adopt A Family of Marin Adopt A Family prevents homelessness and provides stability for
families in crisis with subsidies for rental assistance, security deposits, utility payments, food
vouchers and auto repair. adoptafamily.org
Buckelew Programs Includes Marin’s only
nonmedical detox center, Helen Vine, and Family
Service Agency of Marin, which provides accessible mental health services to children, adults
and families. buckelew.org
Homeward Bound of Marin Homeward Bound
of Marin is the county’s primary provider of
shelters and services for homeless families and
Ritter Center Each year Ritter Center assists
more than 4,000 low-income and no-income
individuals and families who are without a
home or at risk of becoming homeless in Marin.
St. Vincent de Paul Society The Saint Vincent
de Paul Society of Marin provides essential services to meet the needs of the local homeless
and working poor, including food, housing, crisis
assistance and the REST program. vinnies.org
Sunny Hills Services The mission of Sunny
Hills Services is to help vulnerable children,
youth and their families use their strengths to
develop healthy relationships and fulfilling lives.
Warm Wishes Warm Wishes distributes
backpacks stuffed with warm gloves, scarves,
hats, wool socks and rain ponchos to homeless
men, women and children living on the streets.