Thirty years ago, a young, redheaded homeless guy wandered the streets of San Francisco, appearing downtown, in the Castro, occasionally in my neighborhood (Russian Hill). My best friend was also a redhead and he acknowledged a slight resemblance. He used to joke that it was his bad-karma doppelgänger, a joke I let slide since my friend had been homeless himself, having lived in a van when he arrived in San Francisco after leaving his homophobic family. We saw the homeless guy periodically, who seemed a little crazy and wasn’t very communicative so we never learned his story. Earlier this year, I was walking down my lane to find him sitting on a planter box outside my window, using the water tap, still homeless, still uncommunicative. My friend died in 1992 and I think of him when I see the other redhead still on the streets decades later.

“Intractable” and “persistent” are two of the many adjectives tossed around when people discuss homelessness. While not the sole reason for homelessness, mental illness is a significant contributor to the intractable and persistent nature of it, as my redheaded guy seems to illustrate. This issue of the Marin Lawyer takes a few small steps into exploring homelessness in our community and in particular its relationship to mental health. I would like to thank Damon Connolly, our Guest Editor, for bringing together an issue on this topic and Mary Sackett for her invaluable help in making it happen. As a starting point, I highly recommend Andrew Hening’s article exploring the relationship between mental health and homelessness, which sets out the recent history of mental health treatment and the law in our country, which in turn helps explain why we are faced with the situation we are.

A. J. Brady discusses a controversial recent Ninth Circuit ruling that prohibits the criminalization of sleeping on public property. How this will affect the lives of the homeless and how society addresses helping the homeless is yet to be seen. If all of this is sounding grim, be sure to read Judge Kelly Simmons' article on the promise of Marin County’s new Pathways program in the courts. As Presiding Judge Haakenson noted in his creative and entertaining report on the Marin bench at this month’s MCBA member luncheon (if you missed it, you can read about it in Mary Sackett’s report), Judge Simmons was instrumental in bringing together a wide array of constituencies and resources to create a way to help the mentally ill homeless who are swept into the criminal justice system for minor offenses. And in our non-profit profile, you can read about the innovative Downtown Streets Team, which is making a real difference in the lives of many homeless by engaging them with a comprehensive and sustained program that uses community work to rebuild lives, leading to employment and housing.

With our stratified economy and sky-high housing prices, more and more Marin residents are in danger of becoming homeless. You can help keep them in their homes through the many pro bono opportunities here in Marin. As I mentioned last month, whether it is MCBA’s partnership with the Law Library—Lawyers in the Library—or volunteering for Legal Aid or the Canal Alliance or another non-profit organization, you can find a way to put your skills to good use. One place to start is through the Marin Pro Bono Network, which you can explore at