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January, 2006


Skeptic's Journal
Throwing Rocks In West Marin
By Jeanette Pontacq

The open area to the south side of the Giacomini Dairy in Point Reyes Station, which offers access to Papermill Creek, is a favorite walk for locals, with or without their dogs. There are a plethora of birds and good views. There is also, in the jumble of trees, vines and bushes, many places to hide. And therein lies a story.
Two months ago, while walking my dog, Scrunchie, along the creek in the afternoon, I noticed a man lying about four or five feet off the trail, deep inside an area of bushes and vines. The afternoon was rather cold and windy and the man wasn't moving. Although I really just wanted to forget what I saw and keep moving on the trail, I stopped and tried to get the man to respond to me that he was OK. No response.

I thought about the possibilities. 1) He could be sleeping it off, or 2) he could be dead, or 3) he could be homeless and just sleeping or, 4) he could be sick or injured and in need of help. Reluctantly, I decided I had to ask for help from the sheriff's office. The deputy on duty was really great about it and walked with me back to the creek area so that I could point out the guy. Then he asked me to leave. As I did, I saw two big fire trucks come down the dirt road to the side of the Dairy. The paramedics had arrived too! It turned out the man was homeless and sleeping it off, so the paramedics went home, and I never heard more about it

It made me think though. A lot. I thought about the lady I often see on early mornings, sleeping in her car with her cat. I stopped to speak with her once and she told me that people had been throwing rocks at her cat and at her. She seemed very, very nice, polite, and concerned for her cat. She asked me why people would be so mean. I had no answer.

These are just two short vignettes of being homeless in West Marin. Substance abuse and mental illnesses of varying degrees are often involved in these tragedies, but not always. Sometimes it is just very bad luck and dicy choices. I learned that, and much more, from recently interviewing Mary Kay Sweeney, Executive Director of Homeward Bound of Marin, and her associate Steven Glassy for KWMR.

Another thing I learned is that West Marin is really no different from other places in the country, which are experiencing an ever growing number of homeless people. Whereas some homeless in urban areas may sleep under freeways or in deserted buildings, rural areas like West Marin offer just as many places to hide and become invisible. How many of us have averted our eyes and tried to ignore homelessness? I know I have -- many, many times. I was able to tell myself that ranting against the "powers that be" was my way of "doing something." Actually, it was just ranting.

The homeless that carry signs on the sides of freeways and interchanges, the haggard overpass campers, pushing shopping carts of belongings along the street ---- these are the usual faces of the homeless we see on TV. But the families in the Homeward Bound of Marin emergency centers and transitional housing, who go to work every day and take evening classes to get their lives back together are the faces of homelessness too. The face of the solution we can all get behind. Families are the fastest growing homeless population in the country.

Homeward Bound is a nonprofit organization that tackles the tough problem of homelessness here in Marin on our behalf. Its programs are as diverse as homelessness in Marin. The average age of a homeless person is 10 years old! How can this be in Marin?

Right now, let's talk about how we in West Marin can stop averting our eyes from the homelessness among US. First thing is to acknowledge that "they" are here and are real people! For many of us, that might turn out to be the hardest part. I know quite a number of people here about that will agonize over a lost cat or dog out in the rain and cold, bringing them in to the fire as quickly as they can. But these same good people KNOW there are homeless human beings out in that same cold and rain, but turn a blind eye. Why? Fear. On a number of levels. Almost all understandable when one is confronted, alone, with homelessness in ones backyard. What can YOU do?

Know that the homeless are people. Speak to them, if it seems to be mutually comfortable. Say hello. Smile. Start a conversation. And know that Homeward Bound exists to back you up, to offer a chance to those who want it. Take a look at or call 451 3520 and learn more. Let's stop throwing rocks at what scares us, and offer our hand instead. [email protected]

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