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Posted on Jun 2, 2016 in Homeless | 9 comments

Emergency Shelter at Multi-Service Center is a Win-Win

Emergency Shelter at Multi-Service Center is a Win-Win

While the City of San Rafael has focused on moving Ritter Center, on May 1st, 60 homeless persons were put out on the street when the Rotating Emergency Shelter Team (REST) closed for the season. We encourage the City and Marin County to include emergency shelter space in any multi-service facility plan.

For the last two years, REST has been trying to find a single location where they could provide emergency shelter year-round. Sound familiar? With one permanent location, the successful partnership between St. Vincent’s and the faith community, who feed and REST guests every night, would continue. But no site could be found.

If the City is able to find a location for a multi-service center that is within their criteria of not in downtown and not in a residential area, it would be a huge mistake to not include the REST program too.

Terra Linda Response to the Idea

We had a lively response on about a multi-service center proposal off Smith Ranch Road from the Terra Linda and northern San Rafael neighborhoods. The major concern was “what are these people going to do at night?” Neighbors are concerned about homeless camping in their neighborhoods and their hills. How to solve that? Easy. Put an emergency shelter at the facility. House these 60 people and keep them out of the hills at night. There is no “in and out” so when you arrive for the night; you are there until morning.

This will help make the multi-service center a win-win for the City Council and the County. 

Ritter gets moved, REST program transforms to a permanent emergency shelter, and we don’t have 60 more people on the streets and in the hills at night.

Who are the REST clients now camping in San Rafael?

Many of the people in the REST Program don’t meet the criteria to get into Homeward Bound’s Mill Street shelter . . . and there is no room there anyway! We get frustrated now when there are homeless people sleeping in doorways and camping in our neighborhoods. But without shelter space, where are they supposed to go? If a multi-service center is created, it absolutely has to have shelter, or we’re going to have the same problems we have now with people sleeping and camping in areas where it’s not safe or good for business.

The goal of the multi-service center is to create a new location that works for all community members. 

We’re shouldn’t recreate what isn’t working now.

Read more about how REST helps end homelessness.

What about the rest of the County?

We agree that San Rafael and Novato carry the brunt of the homeless issues and services. We think there needs to be housing spread throughout the County. But that is a long-term process and in the meantime, with another year of doing nothing about this, these 60 people are on another 6-month camp-out adventure.

Remember that according to the 2015 Homeless Point-Time Count, there were 255 unsheltered people in San Rafael alone. There are an additional 600+ unsheltered people in other parts of the county. This is an urgent problem.

Housing. Housing. Housing.

Bottom line as always: We need more housing to get people off the street. They matter and they need to be valued. Dignity is a huge part of their path to employment, recovery and housing. Tell the San Rafael City Council and City Manager Jim Schutz that including permanent emergency shelter needs to be part of the broader solution to move people into a more stable housing situation.


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  1. It is fine that you want housing, homeless shelters and low cost Smart rail but it also seems that you want others to pay for it. Why is Smith ranch road ideal? Is it far from where you live? I am concerned with even more homeless illegally camping in our open space. The Smith Ranch location will definitely create more problems in lucas valley.

    • Stephen:

      If you are concerned with people camping illegally, doesn’t it make sense to support more shelter? Services and shelter help keep people from having to live on the streets and in the hills. The majority of the people who use REST became homeless while living in Marin – contrary to popular belief, they aren’t from somewhere else – they are from here.

      • Meredith, How much homeless services should we have in Marin? It is well known that Marin is very generous in providing care and has become a preferred destination as a respite from communities that have tired of their homeless problems. Without discussing realistic limits on the amounts of service, our homeless problem will merely increase.

        • Well known? Among whom? Other communities throughout Northern California have much more generous services for people experiencing homelessness. Like I said, the majority of the people in the REST program became homeless while living here. The idea that people are “flocking” to Marin for services is not supported by the data.

  2. I left a reply once before but not sure if it was read or received. Who is going to pay for and manange/maintain the facility described off Smith Ranch Road. What entity will issue paychecks tothe workers there? Who is the Boss?

    • Jan I did send a reply but it got kicked back. As is now, Ritter Center and St. Vincent’s are generally funded through Federal and State grants and donations. These are non-profits and are their own bosses and run their own organizations. It is up to the County to determine annually which service organizations in Marin qualify for grant money.

  3. A voice of sanity in a sea of fear-mongering. Thank you, Paula.

  4. The Smith Ranch location has the same drawbacks as Central San Rafael-Too many other people in the area aren’t comfortable with groups of homeless people congregating and hanging out. I’m not sure where the ‘win-win’ description in this article came from, but t’s not accurate and is certainly not what I’ve been hearing or reading on Next Door.
    We do need centralized and comprehensive medical, psychiatric and social services for the homeless people. However, It really only makes sense for housing, medical and psychiatric services, as well as social services to be located in the same area. That would be near Marin Community Clinics. That said, the hardcore problem homeless who are heavily abusing substances and/or psychotic, will need more intensive services than these. There is preventive value in getting everyone off the streets to prevent more PTSD and substance abuse.

    • Katherine – your last sentence is important. “There is preventive value in getting everyone off the streets to prevent more PTSD and substance abuse.” REST does just that – offers shelter to people to prevent them form falling into the chronically homeless population. You should also know that REST has been operating in central San Rafael several times a week for the last 8 winters without incident.

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