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An Eye-Opening Coastal Cleanup

We have some serious work to do.

I spent this gorgeous Saturday morning picking up trash in Shorebird Marsh as part of the annual Coastal Cleanup event. I expected to be strolling along the walking paths, picking up discarded protein bar wrappers and tissues that had fallen out of joggers' pockets. I was mistaken.

My fellow volunteers and I waded deep into the pampas grass thicket that lies at the center of the marsh, and before long, we came upon our first encampment. A tattered plastic tarp was spread in a clearing between giant bushes, with a tent erected on top of it and various items strewn all about: lawn furniture, a broken radio, heaps of clothing, a mold-ridden carpet.

This was no isolated situation; Shorebird Marsh hosts perhaps a dozen, maybe more, homeless encampments—some abandoned, many active, and each surrounded by a swath of potentially hazardous refuse.

As we loaded the remains of abandoned encampments onto tarps to be hauled off, we uncovered evidence of a disturbing reality: needles. I won't say there were tons, but there were enough that just when we thought we could let our guard down ("I think that was the last one"), we happened upon another. They were wrapped in bundles of soggy clothing and hidden amongst the dirt and brush on the ground. Each represented a potentially life-altering health hazard to ourselves and the rest of the public.

One reads about the toll the opioid crisis is taking in distant regions of the country like the Rust Belt and Appalachia, but to discover that the problem exists here in our very own Corte Madera was eye-opening. It was an important reminder that while we may not often see those in our town affected by homelessness or addiction, they're here, and something must be done to help them.

Similarly, many of us have seen firsthand the scourge of homelessness in the Bay Area, from San Rafael to Berkeley and especially in San Francisco, a city that is in some ways synonymous with its most prominent social shortcoming. But it was a bracing dose of reality to find homeless encampments in this tranquil slice of town, and given the size of the town.

Coastal Cleanup events are a great way to address litter, one of the symptoms of homelessness. But moving forward, I'll be thinking about ways to move past the symptoms and help address the root causes of the problem.

If you're interested in helping find solutions, or know of individuals or organizations already working to help alleviate local homelessness, please reach out to me. This must be a team effort.

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