.Marin group serving homeless people reaches crossroads

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For more than two decades, professionals from The Street Chaplaincy have walked throughout Marin, providing spiritual care to homeless people.

Now, The Street Chaplaincy needs some care and guidance of its own. The vital organization based in San Rafael faces major changes in its leadership, staff and financial structure.

Nick Morris, who has led The Street Chaplaincy since 2018, will soon leave the group, saying he wants to move on to different work. Last month, Rev. Charlotte Cramer, the organization’s only street chaplain, resigned. The Marin Interfaith Council just announced that it intends to discontinue its role as The Street Chaplaincy’s fiscal sponsor.

The fiscal relationship between the two organizations has allowed The Street Chaplaincy, which does not have an IRS 501(c)(3) designation, to conduct its charitable activities with the benefit of Marin Interfaith Council’s tax-exempt status.

“The Street Chaplaincy raises and spends their own funds on ministry to the homeless, consistent with their mission,” said Rev. Scott Quinn, Marin Interfaith Council’s executive director. “A fiscal sponsor guarantees that there’s an accounting process to ensure that every dollar that comes in is spent for the mission to which the money was donated.”

Finding an appropriate fiscal sponsor is key to The Street Chaplaincy’s future success. According to Quinn, Marin Interfaith Council will continue providing the service and some administrative support while seeking another partner, ideally a faith-based community, for The Street Chaplaincy.

Morris, too, plans on staying until that partner comes on board. He aims to shepherd the organization to a new home and offer a warm handoff.

So, the ministry soldiers on.

“I believe it’s important work, and that’s why I’ve been doing it for so many years now,” Morris said. “And the chaplain before me, Paul [Gaffney], did it for 13 years. Providing care for homeless people comprises mind, body and spirit, and the spiritual side tends to be the least supported.”

Marin Interfaith Council also understands that The Street Chaplaincy performs an essential function for a vulnerable population. Although Marin is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, it lacks enough shelter space for the almost 1,100 homeless people living here, leaving most of them struggling on the streets. The Street Chaplaincy is Marin’s only faith organization with a primary mission of tending to their spiritual needs.

Of course, that begs the question of why the Marin Interfaith Council is withdrawing as fiscal sponsor. Simply put, the coalition of faith communities is currently going through its own transitional phase. With most of its support coming from an aging population and younger people failing to flock to faith communities, the Marin Interfaith Council is doing some soul-searching about its path forward.

“A lot of our funding has shrunk,” Quinn said. “On top of that, we’re dealing with all the different crises of the past few years coming out of the pandemic—our racial reckoning and the laudable and necessary insistence on moving the needle on justice and equity that’s been so lacking in this county for so many decades. Really, this is a chance for MIC to take a step back and ask, ‘What’s our role in the community?’”

With a limited budget and small staff, Marin Interfaith Council does not have the bandwidth to continue providing administrative support and fiscal sponsorship to a separate organization. For example, Quinn spent months assisting The Street Chaplaincy in evaluating and acquiring insurance.

Last week, Quinn emailed Marin Interfaith Council’s members and supporters about the transition for both organizations. He has already received a few responses from faith organizations that want to be part of the conversation about the best place for The Street Chaplaincy.

Morris and Quinn agree that for The Street Chaplaincy to thrive, it needs an organization willing to not only become the fiscal sponsor but also take the administrative lead and run the group. It’s a big ask, but it is necessary to continue the essential programs for the homeless community.

In addition to visiting homeless people wherever they may be, such as shelters, encampments or the hospital, The Street Chaplaincy is part of Marin County’s Whole Person Care. The program enables service providers, including housing and medical case managers, to share information and collaborate on a homeless person’s care.

“We’re not case managers,” Morris said. “But as we provide spiritual support and build relationships with people experiencing homelessness, if they ask for help or there’s a roadblock in getting services, we’ll gladly interface for them with other organizations to help move the process along.”

Another goal for The Street Chaplaincy is to build community between the homeless and faith-based communities. Wellness Gathering, a weekly event, does just that by bringing homeless and housed folks together for an evening of meditation, prayer, storytelling and dinner.

“The Tuesday dinners are a way of creating relationships of care in the community, and that turns into support for housing,” Morris said. “People feel passionate about it, including the congregations that volunteer to help with the dinners.”

During The Street Chaplaincy’s transition period, the weekly dinners will continue, according to Morris. While the holiday season is still a few months away, Morris is thinking ahead to The Street Chaplaincy’s three major annual events, hoping that a new partner will be found by then.

At Thanksgiving, The Street Chaplaincy and volunteers from various groups provide dinner and entertainment for about 125 people. The evening includes a warm clothing giveaway for the homeless guests. A similar event takes place during the third week of December.

Also in December, around the winter solstice, The Street Chaplaincy holds a memorial service for homeless community members who died in the past year. Those attending include homeless people honoring their friends, parents who have lost children and homeless service providers.

“It’s incredibly moving,” Morris said. “The testimonies and the stories shared, they bring tears to my eyes. It’s a lot for everyone to carry.”

Indeed, ministering to homeless people is a heavy load. Now, Marin’s faith organizations and individuals must come together to preserve The Street Chaplaincy’s mission and good works.

Jason Sarris, who spent more than a decade living on the streets of Marin, experienced firsthand the important spiritual support offered by The Street Chaplaincy. And he has witnessed the positive impact their work has had on the homeless community.

“When I was unhoused, I talked to Rev. Marty Tracy, who was their street chaplain at the time,” Sarris said. “I’m not much of a religious person, and I’m not really comfortable speaking with clergy, but I found it easy to share things with her—soothing even. Rev. Marty related to issues that I was having living outside, and she helped me. Obviously, it would be a great loss if The Street Chaplaincy wasn’t able to continue.”

Contact Rev. Scott Quinn of the Marin Interfaith Council at [email protected] with recommendations on potential partners for The Street Chaplaincy. 

Nikki Silverstein
Nikki Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Pacific Sun since 2005. She escaped Florida after college and now lives in Sausalito with her Chiweenie and an assortment of foster dogs. Send news tips to [email protected].

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you very much for this article which is so informative about the situation of the unhoused people in Marin and the chaplaincy working to address their spiritual support. I appreciate having my awareness raised and look forward to learning about how the situation as it develops through its transition and ways that readers can contribute to its support.

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