Fires at Homeless Camps Challenge San Rafael

By Chris Roberts
|  Saturday, Jul 9, 2011  |  Updated 7:37 AM PDT
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Fires at Homeless Camps Challenge San Rafael

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A panhandler begs for money.

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Marin County has problems aplenty. In San Rafael, officials are busy cutting brush, clearing leaves and removing other vegetation -- because of homeless encampments.

But will removing homeless encampments solve the "homeles problem"?

There are multiple popular camping spots around San Rafael for folks without homes. But a recent glut of fires has led the San Rafael City Council to allot $45,000 to pay for a special task force -- comprised of firefighters, police officers, and public works employees -- to flesh out where homeless people camp and to clear out brush and other debris, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

Officials say homeless people have caused at least eight fires in recent months, highlighting the need for the multi-agency task force. However, homeless advocates say the approach merely attacks the symptom, not the root cause.

"There aren't enough places for people to go," says homeless advocate Cris Jones, according to the newspaper. "You can't sleep in your car -- that's illegal. Even if you're tired you sleep on the side of the road, you can get a ticket for that."

During past crackdowns, homeless people get kicked out of the hills and the streets, and are forced to roam to find a quiet place to sleep, said Jones, who said authorities should provide a parking lot or somewhere else safe for homeless people to sleep without fear of fire -- or authorities.

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