Homeless taking up residence near San Rafael 9/11 memorial

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- Marin County has the 7th highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country. A large portion of them end up in downtown San Rafael, very close to a memorial dedicated to one of the people who lost their lives on 9/11.

Lauren Grandcolas was among the casualties of the September 11 attacks. The city she lived in, San Rafael built a memorial one year later.

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Today Peggy Butler brought flowers to honor the 38-year-old who was three months pregnant at the time.

"But especially the fact that she was from San Rafael and pregnant, so I always stop here to pay my respects, every year."

But some complain that the site on 4th Street has become a regular spot for the homeless and, at times, drug users.

The city tries to keep it clean.

"First, we have a non-profit that helps clean up the area and that's comprised of people who are current or formally homeless, but it's not easy by any means," explained Andrew Hening, Director of Homeless Planning and Outreach.

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For one, last April, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a homeless person cannot be forced to leave a location if a city does not have enough shelter beds. San Rafael, like other cities, doesn't.

Still, this city is making progress. Since 2017, San Rafael has reduced the number of unsheltered homeless people by 30 percent.

"We really need to focus on the most visible, most vulnerable people and we are going to focus on housing them," added Hening.

But during our interview, we were interrupted by a homeless man singing the National Anthem.

About two-thirds of those experiencing chronic homelessness, have mental issues.

The mental health resource officer for the police department was there and tried to reach out to him. Not everyone accepts the help offered.

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"Again, there is a small percentage, it's probably...I can count on two hands the number of people who steadfastly decline any offer of help over the years," said Lynn Murphy, mental Health Outreach Liaison for the San Rafael Police.

But as we were reminded by this homeless man, today was about paying tribute to Lauren Grandcolas. The man called "Canyon" took out his flute and began to play a song in her honor.
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