Dedicated to helping Marin’s homeless

POSTED: 12/12/18

Author: Kate Fitzsimmons

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

Host Nick Nutzu, left, invited PJ O’Connell of Marin Homeless Aid on stage to talk about their work during an event in San Rafael in November, 2018. (Martha Ture photo)

PJ O’Connell has a passion to end homelessness in Marin County. An electrical engineer by trade, he founded Marin Homeless Aid, an organization with a mission to inspire the people of Marin County to be part of the solution, aiding Marin’s homeless population by putting a roof over the head of anyone who finds themselves living on the streets. Crazy? It is a concept that is gaining ground nationwide.

The idea begins with the concept that housing is a right, not a privilege. In a civilized society, that shouldn’t be such a leap, but some still fight the idea, blaming the homeless for their own situation. Removing the stigma of blame and focusing on a solution is what drives O’Connell. The County of Marin has also adopted the concept of Housing First as a viable approach.

O’Connell admits, “I’ve had people say to me that if we provide services and housing, we are creating an incentive for more homeless to come here. I don’t believe that, and anyone who thinks that building housing for the homeless is too expensive might consider how much is spent on repeated ER visits and revolving door stays in the county jail. Compassion and understanding for what many homeless individuals and families experience is what we need. That, and stable housing.”

He continued, “We hosted our second annual music benefit last month at the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael, with Fleetwood Mask and the Illeagles. It was a great night for everyone who joined us, we had generous sponsors and were able to present this year’s recipient, Homeward Bound, with a $15,000 check. They will use 50 percent of the proceeds to complete the renovation of housing for homeless seniors.”

The projected departure of three longtime tenants in the Montecito Shopping Center certainly signals change. Mad Rags, a clothing boutique closed last month. Signs went up announcing two more store closings in November as well. Tuesday Morning, part of a chain of more than 700 stores nationwide featuring close-out merchandise, is closing its store at 239 Second St. Performance Bicycle is the third on the match of store closings.

On Nov. 16 Performance Bicycles parent company, Advanced Sports Enterprises (ASE) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They hired a liquidation sales company to run sales at 40 of Performance’s locations. Their store at 369 Second St. was among those first 40 stores, according to Karen Bliss, chief marketing officer – ASE, in Philadelphia. “We are in bankruptcy proceedings and meet with the judge weekly. This is creating a great deal of uncertainty for employees. But Chapter 11 is for reorganization, so the store (in San Rafael) may get bought by another owner of a bicycle business. There is hope and optimism that it will be bought out and continue.”

Dennis Fisco, one of the center’s property owners with Seagate Properties, indicated that all three stores experienced a good run. “They’ve all been here for twenty years or more. I don’t see it as anything more than an indication of changes that happen over time. The owner of Mad Rags wanted to retire, I think the rent got the better of Tuesday Morning, and Performance is in the midst of a Chapter 11 restructure. I don’t think we’ll see much movement right away as far as new tenant interest. Nothing happens between November through the end of January, as retailers are focused on holiday sales and year-end inventory.”

The new, old LJ’s

LJ’s Deli changed hands earlier this year. Tucked into the parking lot side of the business complex at 4380 Redwood Highway B15, San Rafael, this popular spot got a bright facelift, along with new owners. Kaity Galvez and her husband Roberto, took over the deli after longtime owner, LJ Callan retired.

The 33-year-old Galvez works with two other employees. “I was really scared, because it was ‘change’ but everyone has been very positive. We’ve changed the menu a little, adding a selection of soups made in-house, and fresh salads with in-house dressing. We also feature Premium Sub Sandwiches made with tri-tip or smoked chicken breast from Lombardi’s BBQ in Petaluma. We’ve added catering services, too.”

She continued, “I’ve been overwhelmed by how kind everyone is. It feels like the old TV show, “Cheers”. LJ’s daughter comes in once in a while and LJ has been so generous with his time to answer questions. I came from a fashion industry background and my husband is the general manager at Hansel Ford in Santa Rosa. He’s my business coach. We believe in giving back to the community, so we are reaching out to a different nonprofit each month. Adopt a Family will receive $1 of every Turkey Cranberry sandwich we sell through the end of December.”

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