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SRPD + Lynn Murphy = A New Way to Help Those Experiencing Homelessness

February 17th, 2021

We chat to San Rafael Police Department Mental Health Liaison licensed marriage and family therapist Lynn Murphy about her work with Ritter Center.

SRPD + Lynn Murphy = A New Way to Help Those Experiencing Homelessness

“When I talk to families, they want to know if their child is alive. They haven’t heard from their son or daughter in two months. I get calls every week like this. Imagine if we could talk about mental health to shatter the stigma, eliminate the shame and get rid of the fear,” says San Rafael Police Department Mental Health Liaison licensed marriage and family therapist Lynn Murphy.

“There is a power in sharing your story.  You are not alone.”

Lynn was hired in 2013 to be a point of connection for people experiencing homelessness and/or mental health issues. Lynn got to know people, listened to their stories, and developed relationships with people on the street. Over time, these relationships included service providers like Ritter Center, too. From that, she grew an even stronger network of connections with the District Attorney’s office, the court system, and the Public Defender’s office.

She has continued the work started by Dr. Joel Fay, a former officer with SRPD, to connect people to needed services as opposed to traditional criminal justice interventions.

“Instead of putting someone in jail who missed their bail hearing because they are unable to keep organized and track of dates, we can work with them to come every week to tell the judge what they are doing and if are they taking any recommended medication,” explains Lynn.

New ways of trying to help people have also come into play. The Marin Alliance to Solve Homelessness (MASH) is a consortium of government agencies and community-based organizations working to house the most vulnerable people experiencing chronic homelessness in Marin County. Lynn’s involvement with these efforts highlights how her role involves both crisis response and systems-level work to ensure everyone in Marin has access to needed resources.

“The beauty of being both a frontline worker and in a position to help bring about change is that there isn’t a distinction for my work. I can do both because I straddle both worlds as a licensed marriage and family therapist with a master’s in counseling psychology. The work is therapeutic, even though it’s not therapy per se,” says Lynn.

Lynn’s background with the Police Department counseling juvenile offenders and their families as well as a former life as a teacher gave her enormous experience in the psychological and social development of students. She also worked for nonprofits and had a private practice.

“When I was first approached about this job as a mental health liaison, my first reaction was that I’ve never worked with the homeless. I wasn’t sure I would be a good fit. But it was and it has evolved into something bigger and better,” remembers Lynn. “I can focus on checking in and on the interactions.  My goal is to get people help. If you have a nasty abscess on your hand, then let’s have a nurse come look at it.  We now have a team that can respond and actually do something actionable and capture that moment in time.”

Lynn regularly attends the weekly clinical meeting held at Ritter to consult and develop care plans for people receiving services at the agency.

“Ritter is a safe haven for people on the street.  A place where people can go to see familiar faces. Talk to somebody and be heard. Ritter does incredible work. They are angels to people on the street,” emphasizes Lynn.  “We are so happy to partner with them.  They are an underappreciated resource.”