With the coronavirus spreading and the public ordered to stay home, these are unusual times in West Marin. This is the fourth week in a shutdown of all nonessential activities, and althgouh many people’s perception of time has been thrown off. Alongside our news coverage of the pandemic, the Light is offering windows into the lives of our readers. This week, we talked to a social worker and a news curator.
Peter Planteen, a social worker for Community Action Marin, spends his days looking for and listening to homeless people, with the ultimate goal of connecting them to health services and housing. During the coronavirus pandemic, Peter said his work has grown more dramatic. He is equipped with vouchers that can be used for a one-week motel stay, but first he has to convince motels to accept a homeless person. So far, he’s placed two people, and he’s trying to place three more. He doesn’t know what will happen when their week is up. “It’s a band-aid, but it’s better than nothing,” he said. Peter and his partner, Michael Payne, are both recovering alcoholics, and that experience helps them connect with the unhoused. They focus on the most vulnerable in Bolinas and Point Reyes Station. They are currently working with 10 who don’t have families, a car or any money; four of them struggle with addiction. “These are what we call the ‘throw-away people,’” Peter said. “Society has nothing for them.”
In a particularly heartbreaking moment this weekend, Peter found a younger client sleeping in mud, under a wet blanket. The man had not eaten for a day and a half. Peter gave him $10, but instead of heading to the grocery store, the man rode off on his bike in the opposite direction. Peter tried to follow him, but he was gone. Another homeless person Peter works with seems like he could have Covid-19; Peter is wearing a mask and staying six feet away in all conversations. Securing housing or getting mental health counseling for his clients is his ultimate goal, but listening is how he makes an immediate impact. In Bolinas on Monday, he listened to a homeless man talk for an hour and a half about his American Indian spirituality. Quick check-ins are also valuable. “We’ll talk to regulars for 10 minutes and they’ll appreciate it,” Peter said. These days, it’s easier for him to drive around and spot homeless people because fewer people are out and about. “The people who are invisible are now visible,” he said.
Finding new ways to help
Christian Anthony is still trying to figure out how to best utilize the West Marin Feed during these unprecedented times. His social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a forum for all things West Marin, specifically focused on Inverness and Point Reyes Station, and he has thousands of followers. People turn to his feed when there’s a medical airlift, heavy traffic or a strange sound in the neighborhood. “Either purposely or not, the West Marin Feed tends to mirror the voice of lots of folks,” he said. “That’s the benefit of sticking with it a long time, you build an audience that trusts you and people get into a pattern where that’s where they get their information from.” When Christian moved to Inverness 10 years ago, he noticed an absence of local traffic updates. Because he works as a director of digital engagement for a nonprofit, turning his social media time into a community service came naturally. He doesn’t create news; he curates it. About 90 percent of what he shares is informative, and the other 10 percent is more fun, like the sunsets he captures over Tomales Bay.
When travelers flooded the coast on the first warm weekend under the shelter order, he shared a photo of the Bear Valley parking lot that received 241 comments and was shared 398 times. But the new reality is that not as much is happening in West Marin. He’s considering a survey to find out how best to serve his followers. “Really what I’ve focused on is trying to support local businesses and local merchants,” he said. Besides sharing takeout menus and business hours, he posts updates from official outlets like Marin County Health and Human Services. His feed has become more logistical. “The goal of the West Marin Feed is trying to help people, without stressing them out,” he said.