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Posted on May 18, 2016 in Homeless | 26 comments

Finally a Homelessness Plan With Promise

Finally a Homelessness Plan With Promise

After attending two of Andrew Hening’s community conversations about the homeless issue, there is an option that is worth discussing. With so much negative, polarizing rhetoric about the issues in San Rafael and magical solutions (send them to Sonoma!), it is a relief to have a realistic solution on the table.

This Sounds like a Win-Win

The City Council has committed to work with the County and other stakeholders (including Ritter and St. Vincent’s) to find a new location for Ritter Center. The details are not all worked out, but Andrew encouraged the group to let the City and County know we support this approach. Contact links are at the bottom of this post.

Move Ritter and St. Vincent’s to North San Rafael

There is a 20,000 square foot building in North San Rafael, off Smith Ranch Road, away from residential areas, that could be repurposed as a multi-service location. The hope is to get Ritter Center to move there and encourage St. Vincent’s to come along. Remember that St. Vincent’s owns their downtown building and is under no obligation to abide by the City/County wishes. But in the interest of providing better services, St. Vincent’s is at the table talking. Great news.

Moving Ritter Helps But it Isn’t a Panacea

There have been relentless attacks on Ritter Center, as if it is the ONE cause of the problems downtown. It is not. Ritter is one piece of a complicated puzzle and an easy scapegoat. Most people don’t even know all the services they provide or that they do great work. If you only move Ritter, and someone has to choose between staying downtown where there is free food (St. Vincent’s) or heading north for medical care and showers (Ritter)…they’ll stay near the food. Nothing is simple when it comes to addressing homelessness and poverty in our community.

To make a real impact on downtown San Rafael, we need to move and consolidate all these services. However, there are still other pieces to the puzzle. One of our biggest challenges is the small portion of the population that is severely mentally ill or suffers from severe addiction or both. Imagine a schizophrenic on meth. Programs such as the new H.O.T. team (look for an upcoming post), Chronic Inebriates program, Downtown Streets Team and our mental health outreach officer are all working to get this population into treatment. The elephant in the room continues to be affordable housing. Where do we house people who need services in this expensive housing market?

Get Behind this Good Idea

Our City Council and our Board of Supervisors need to hear from us. The County in particular has been too inactive for too long on this issue. Please email them with your support for a North San Rafael location for homeless services. And we want it done soon so we aren’t’ still talking about moving Ritter in another three years.

Contact the Board of Supervisors and  San Rafael City Council

Email the San Rafael City Council

Email Marin County Board of Supervisors


Please leave a comment. All comments are moderated due to spam issues. But we approve them very quickly!


  1. I don’t think it’s a workable plan to move services to North San Rafael. Without full buy-in from all parties the issues remain the same. Access to food and health care, police oversight, general co-ordination of services will remain fractured. My view is there needs to be a “boss”. Generally speaking, that would be an entity with the power to formulate a plan, make decisions and have access and control of the finances to pay for it. It doesn’t seem practical to have the City of San Rafael be the “boss” as it’s a countywide issue. Who is the boss?

  2. Jan, the City of San Rafael is not the ‘boss’. Their only tool is Use permits and zoning. The County is responsible for ALL health and human services and provide funding. They distribute money that comes from the State and the Feds.

    The planning for this is being done by the County and the City of San Rafael because the SR wants these services moved and need County support in finding a place and a good plan. Hope that helps.

    • I agree this is a good plan. Consolidating services on a North campus makes it much easier to provide these services to those who need them most.

  3. Sounds like a great plan to me!

  4. I’ve always felt that the big vacant lot (on the loop, along the east heading road) near the Marin Community Health Center was an ideal place for homeless housing. Right now, it seems to be a car lot. We have a lot of car lots down there. Do we really need more car lots? Maybe Ritter House could run the housing. Would the city be willing? A trek from there to St. V’s for food would be easier than over in N. San Rafael. And it would be near medical, so an easy consolidation.

    • The best folks to actually develop housing are Homeward Bound and Rotary Clubs. Also villages of Tiny Homes would be a good addition for transitional housing for homeless and homeless mentally ill while they are stabilizing and getting ready to work, etc.

    • I agree you need to keep homeless facilities near downtown San Rafael that’s where the people are put the facility where the people are the people will not move north

  5. this is a terrible plan and simply an attempt to eviscerate homeless services. The services need to be where the need is greatest. Downtown San Rafael is a population and transportation center, which is why so many of the the homeless migrate downtown. Moving out to Smith Ranch Road, where NO ONE can easily access the services just guarantees that they will not be used or available for the population that most needs them.

    • John , What you say is absolutely correct. people who are saying to move all facilities north do not understand that the homeless do not have vehicles and the ones that do probably do not have money for gas. And they need access to grocery stores. Being where Ritter is those who have little or nothing can walk where they need to go.

      • The majority of the business that Ritter does centers around the housed low income families and seniors and most of them have cars and might be thankful for more parking off of Smith Ranch Road. Just sayin’

    • I think John’s got it right. It’s a downtown issue because of the transit hub.

  6. There are some empty/shuttered buildings and empty lots in the Hamilton area north of the renovated bachelor officers’ housing, now condos. This area is near the bus lines, the SMART train line and a Marin Airporter stop. It’s far enough north of the Hamilton and Novato Charter schools so as not to present a problem for school kids or the shopping center in the area. I think it’s not far from Homeward Bound and would be a “natural” for building subsidized and affordable housing for the homeless. Maybe there needs to be a variety of places for various services needed by different homeless people who have different problems: One place for homeless with drug and alcohol problems, one for mentally ill, one where people need help with employment and finding affordable housing but are employable, able and willing to work, etc.

    • You are right Larissa! Hamilton, near Homeward Bound is a much better site than off of Smith Ranch Road. There is enough space there to all the services needed by the various sub-groups of homeless.

  7. why does the help all need to be in one place? it makes sense for the “basic need” services (food, healthcare, ritter house, transportation) to be centrally located near downtown for easy accessibility. i agree that the parking lots close to marin community clinic would be ideal. then what about utilizing the smith ranch road property & possibly the empty lots & buildings in the hamilton area, for actual housing of the homeless? maybe provide the land as a space for optional living? tents, temporary shelters, some dorm style places for people, etc. (this is how many homeless people are accustomed to living anyway). there could even be shuttle services offered on a regular basis. and eventually jobs offered to the homeless community to help keep this plan running. with the security of a stable place to call home, it could be possible to create a community within our communities in marin county, maybe even becoming a model for other counties experiencing similar issues with the inevitable situation of homelessness in our world today. just an idea…

    • Great points. The Mayor is intent on getting Marin County to provide services in other parts of the County. There is talk of putting some supportive housing at this location, but this is a developing plan. Please send your ideas to the Board of Supervisors and SR City Council.

    • smart thinking, your idea to create housing for the homeless has been proven to work around the world. Also, you are correct in saying that people without a home or in extreme poverty need access to amenities. this is extremely important and does not seem to register with those who want to locate facilities north.

    • I really like what you said here I think we should all read it at least three times

  8. Definitely Marin County has abdicated its responsibility. Supervisor Katie Rice just finally added “homelessness” as a “key issue” to her website… during the election and after much nudging from those of us watching. When I spoke with her she indicated that the majority of her district, the Ross Valley, does not see homelessness as a significant issue but are instead concerned about traffic and flood control. That may be true (I don’t think it is based on speaking with people in Ross Valley) but her title is “Marin Supervisor” and not “Ross Valley Supervisor.” She needs to represent all of Marin, especially since she’s chair of the homeless steering committee for the county! Damon Connolly is not in my district but was the only one to vote for Laura’s Law and should be the chair of that committee at least until Rice (hopefully) gets replaced. I am supporting Frank Egger as he has walked the streets of the neighborhood talking to us about this issue, and has shown up and spoken at the city council meetings about the issue. I believe he will roll up his sleeves, shake things up a bit, and drive some change at the county level.

    I do think a central services site is what is required… ** transportation could then be tailored to meet the needs of that location.** Lack of transport is not a reason to abandon hope for other non-downtown locations. Hold city and county officials accountable for making sure adequate affordable transport is provided.

    The main issue is the chronic inebriates and mentally ill, not the “homeless” and a secondary issue is poor leadership at the Ritter Center (more on that later). The County with the HOT program and passage of Laura’s Law plus other actions (closing the revolving door in the courts for those who are repeat offenders and will not seek treatment) needs to get the chronic inebriates off the street, pronto. It’s the same 30-40 people that are negatively impacting the 2400+ people who abide by laws and don’t defecate in public.

    As for the much-demonized Ritter Center, I toured the facility more than a year ago and was humbled and impressed by all the services provided there and by the dedication of the employees and the volunteers. However, I have attended enough city council meetings and seen Executive Director Cia Byrnes in action long enough to know that in parallel with finding a new location, the board of the Ritter Center must find a new executive director who can work collaboratively and constructively with stakeholders. The frustration of even her supporters is palpable, who say that she was a fine medical practitioner but does not have the toolkit to manage an organization like Ritter. St. Vincent’s is not perfect, but has done a much better job of community engagement and stakeholder management.

    The endless parade of people who stand up “in support of the Ritter Center” and speak about all the great work done there are missing the point. We all agree with that. Continuing to extoll its virtues and demonize those who want to change the status quo are missing the point that people like me want the Ritter Center to be around, and respect what they are doing, but want new leadership there and want a 24-hour services model so that homeless aren’t just taken care of from 9-5 then dumped on the streets to fend for themselves. The idea of the city helping them find a new landlord is laughable… first off, San Rafael does not have a core competency in real estate selection, and second, who would want them with their current model / lack of stakeholder management as a neighbor? Not a good neighbor and if I were a landlord I would not want them as a tenant – I would be dealing with complaints from neighboring properties constantly.

    I think all or most of us want to provide real help to those who are struggling, and help the chronic inebriates get treatment and get off our streets. It is too bad this issue has become so divisive — the Nextdoor threads pretty much deteriorated into very polarized positions and name calling. I expect that may happen here. But thank you for providing a forum for those of us who are working behind the scenes with the office holders to make our views known.

    Thank you for reading this long post.

    • Thank you for writing the “long” post….educational, enlightening. I too support election of Frank Egger because I am convinced he with Damon Connolly will get the homeless problem solved with our help of course.

    • Thank you for writing this post your view seems passionate and change seems to be your mission. I am an advocate for Laura’s Law and involved with the circulation of the petition to the board of supervisors to implement AB-1421 known as Laura’s Law.
      Have you signed the petition? If not please respond and let’s meet. If you have already signed and want to help in our efforts to collect 10,000 signatures by July 31 lets still connect and plug some ideas to get this law in effect.
      I’m a voter in district 2 trying to persuade Katie Rice. I have noticed like you mentioned her slowly lean in and her focus shifting toward what we need. Timing is of the essence and the time seems to be NOW!

  9. How will low income folks and homeless folks without cars get to the Dining Facility to eat and to services provided by Ritter ?

  10. I appreciate your thoughtful and positive write-up on this subject. I wasn’t able to make the meetings with Andrew Hening last week but I am curious if anyone has a sense of how real this North San Rafael option is – has the landlord indicated a willingness to host these services? If not, then that leaves us about where we have been the last several years.

    For those who don’t want Ritter to move at all I would point out that Ritter’s leadership has indicated a preference to move to an improved facility that would allow them to provide better services while minimizing impacts to downtown. It’s time to get on board and work together toward a solution that benefits everyone rather than embrace a failed status quo.

    • Ken we will know more next week I believe. Think this is a building purchase but we’ll see. Agreed that Ritter needs a better facility along with some operational changes. I’ll have a new post up this weekend about Ritter Center.

  11. Once again north San Rafael finds itself targeted with disparate impact – first with “Northgate Walk” the next WinCup; now we’re targeted to be saddled with centralized homeless services.

    The solution is the same – disperse the homeless services and the housing (limited unit number infill for any given neighborhood) instead of concentrating them making the impact onerous.

    San Rafael can’t continue to take the burden of the homeless services while the county and other cities provide barely any services.

    This is just moving the problem, it doesn’t fix it at all.

  12. And who creates a website presuming themselves to represent all San Rafael residents yet promoting the most controversial, unpopular policies – like advocating for SMART?

    Is this like Marin Grassroots which is anything but?

    Where’s George Orwell when you need him?

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