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A community adrift in Marin County

A community adrift in Marin County

Picture of Ryan White

In the richest county in California lies a motley assemblage of residents living aboard a flotilla of weather-worn boats in a narrow bay sandwiched between Sausalito and Tiburon. Some are poor, some struggle with substance abuse, some are simply working-class individuals who prefer the live-aboard life to land's confines.

The community's proximity to multi-million-dollar homes and the area's long-running reputation for crime has long made the presence of the anchor-outs a contentious issue in local politics.

But by and large, the anchor-outs receives little coverage from local media. As is often the case with underserved groups, reporting on the community has been sparse, and the reports that do exist tend to take the forms of crime stories or rely largely on quotes from local authorities who patrol the bay by boat. The voices of the residents themselves almost never make it into the stories, and they're typically viewed through a lens that, implicitly or otherwise, casts the group as a crime-ridden bastion of lawlessness that should be cleaned up, regulated or removed.

There's a clear need for reporting that goes beyond the dominant assumptions and crime-blotter accounts and talks to the residents themselves, a reporting that incorporates their perspectives, that tells of their daily challenges and of their difficulties in getting services like healthcare and counseling, of finding fresh food and water, disposing of waste, securing work, getting to shore and back. The isolation of their homes means many are at additional remove from land-based health services, a problem compounded by the fact that many have few means to buy basics like food, fuel and water, let alone pay for health insurance or doctor visits.

Sausalito's new police chief has recently voiced a desire to do a better job reaching out to the community, which so far has translated into more on-the-water patrols and citations on the one hand, and a new outreach program that teams with local health providers to deliver services such as flu shots and Tdap vaccinations on the other. (The program carries the problematic name "Homeless Outreach Program," which would seem to imply these residents fall under the rubric of homelessness.) It's too early to say what the increased attention from the police and their partners will mean for the community, but it's a development I'll want to further explore. Throughout the project, I'll be asking: Are existing health and social services benefiting members of this community, or are these residents falling through the cracks, and if so, why?

In the meantime, I'm working on steadying my sea legs.

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