November 14, 2018

Residents Say, “Yes, In My Back Yard” to Homeless Shelter

Residents in Marin County are famous for their NIMBYism, with “NIMBY” standing for “Not In My Back Yard.” Yes, we’ll donate to Habitat for Humanity, yes, we want affordable housing, yes, we want public transportation and more parking, just don’t build any of it near where I live!

This week, a standing-room-only crowd went before the Marin County Board of Supervisors to send them another message. While one representative spoke to the Supervisors about their support, residents stood with signs reading, “Yes, in my back yard” and their ZIP code, to let the Supervisors know that people from all over the county not only support the creation of a year-round homeless shelter someplace else, but they also support it even if the best place for it turns out to be in their neighborhood.

The homeless situation in Marin County, one of the richest counties in the state, is a problem that should have been addressed long ago.  Almost a decade ago, homeless people were literally dying from exposure in the winter, so a “temporary” rotating shelter system was created, in which homeless people stay at a different church or synagogue in the county every night of the week during the coldest months.

This temporary shelter system, called REST, was supposed to be a stop-gap measure for one or two winters, to give the county time to find a more permanent place for these folks to sleep year-round. Now, after the eighth year of REST, we appear to be no closer to opening a permanent shelter than we were when it started.

For years, the Marin Organizing Committee (MOC), a group of concerned residents supported by non-profit organizations throughout the county, has been working with the county and other concerned parties in order to identify a location for a year-round shelter.

In all eight years of the REST program, complaints from the neighbors of the institutions housing these folks has been virtually non-existent. The program includes strict behavioral rules, and anybody who makes trouble for the REST staff, the hosting organization’s volunteers or facilities, or their neighbors, will not be tolerated.

Despite this glowing record of success and good behavior, the moment a possible homeless shelter site was announced to the public, cries went up from those nearby, with the familiar “NIMBY” complaints, imagining all sorts of problems which have not manifested themselves around the REST shelter in any of the eight years of its operation. The deal fell through before it ever got off the ground.

That is why, I am proud to say, so many residents from the area where the potential shelter site was found, as well as others throughout the county, were willing to take time out of their busy lives to come to the Board of Supervisors to give them the opposite message: “Yes, we want a homeless shelter, we want it now, and yes, you can put it in my back yard.”

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