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Op-Ed: Help the Homeless in Marin While Solving Climate Change

The owner of Tamalpais Natureworks has a different idea for putting the homeless to work in Marin.

I'm pleased, but not excited, about the possibility of 12 people (without a home) being paid with vouchers for food and housing for cleaning areas of downtown San Rafael, because this represents only 3 percent of our homeless community.

What about all the rest — including the precariously housed or those who have only limited work or no work all? What we need is a broader community plan that benefits everyone: those who have it all, those who have nothing and everyone else in between.

Last summer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the Mayors Challenge, a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. The only qualification was having a population of at least 30,000. When I heard about this, I was ecstatic about the possibility of San Rafael entering this competition. San Rafael met the population requirement and it could help us solve our homelessness as well as the biggest issue of our day — climate change.

Climate change will not be solved by big business or nations. If solved, it will be by individual actions and communities working more from within. Further, I believe sustainable communities are at the heart of a sustainable planet. I've been working on this for years, a plan to empower people and communities everywhere while transforming community waste into living wage jobs and locally made products.

Here in Marin, we waste (burn and bury) several hundred tons of good stuff, especially consumer products and building materials. Some may argue with what I'm saying here by pointing to our highly publicized diversion rate, but one needs to understand that much of what is diverted still gets buried and burned. When we burn waste to produce energy for a moment in time or when we use waste to shore up or cover our waste in landfills, it's classified as “reuse” and labeled “diversion.” I call these classifications “smoke and mirrors,” because they make it look like we are so responsible when, in fact, we are really doing little.

While thinking about the prospects of San Rafael entering the Mayors Challenge, I came to the conclusion that it was unlikely that anyone in city government would connect the dots about this opportunity, so I decided to complete the entire application myself. There was little time to do this and it took more time than expected.

With only a few days left for mayors to RVSP to Bloomberg Philanthropies, I contacted the mayor's office through the city's web site. I briefly outlined the Bloomberg opportunity and asked the mayor for his and all council members e-mail addresses so I could send it to all. Immediately following my written request, I telephoned the mayor's office and left a follow up message because I couldn't reach him personally.

I had no grand thoughts of the city accepting and submitting my plan as is, I expected them to see its potential and many possibilities and then rewrite it so everyone could be participants, making contributions to the final submission.

Since completing the plan, I've continued to work and detail its many aspects. I have signed up more than 200 anxious souls who are ready to work. I announced this plan locally as, Ready, Rested and Sober.

FYI, here's the Mayors Challenge web site.

I've attached a PDF of my Bloomberg Challenge application and plan — a project of our time.

William Callahan is the owner of the San Rafael based Tamalpais NatureWorks.

What do you think of this idea? Tell us in the Comments below.

valeri hood February 25, 2013 at 06:01 PM
I think this is fantastic- making the link in the lack of consciousness- how the culture treats people as stuff- human 'garbage'- stuff 'garbage'--making the link and talking about the fact that we cannot 'throw' people and things away- William - you are truly human and a genius to boot!
DINAH MATTOS February 26, 2013 at 01:49 AM
Waste not...Want not Good story
Jonathan Frieman February 26, 2013 at 03:31 PM
William is a serious and dedicated individual. I'm very proud to know him and to have worked with him in trying to keep Target out of San Rafael.

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