Homeless Issues Meeting in Dominican Report
The Dominican neighborhood association hosted a meeting on February 28 to discuss the impact of the homeless population on the neighborhood. Mayor Gary Phillips and Vice Mayor Kate Colin came to hear our concerns and speak about the efforts to address the problems.. San Rafael Police Department Corporal Ronda Reese and Officer Marc Laplante also attended.
Vice Mayor Colin gave an overview of what is being done to manage the homeless situation in our City. She explained that it is the County’s responsibility to provide health and human services to the community. However, San Rafael has often found itself with no choice but to go it alone, spending City resources to manage bad situations and behaviors. Right now, the City spends about $1 million per year.
Here are some of the things that are being done:
- Stay informed with the City’s new Blog. The City of San Rafael has a new blog for homeless issues at www.cityofsanrafael.org/citymgr-hlnews/
- Illegal campsites. There are two open space rangers assigned to patrol regularly. If they find a campsite, they are required by law to post a sign providing 48-hour notice to vacate or their belongings will be confiscated. After 48 hours, the rangers clean up and store whatever they find. This has proven to be very effective. They haven’t found an encampment (group of people camping and creating a more permanent site) in the last year. This ‘no-tolerance’ approach to camping has also reduced the incidence of fires. (The goats were given some credit for that too!)
- Mental health outreach. Lynn Murphy was hired to do mental health outreach a few years ago and has been enormously successful. She walks the beat, identifies why someone with mental health issues is falling through the cracks, and gets them directed to the appropriate services. She is also a respected voice at the table with the County.
- Stepped up patrols. The City hired Barbier Security to provide private patrols at Boyd Park, the Library and Albert Park to supplement our understaffed police department.
- Fourth Street officer. One SRPD officer is assigned to walk Fourth St. and provide on the ground presence to support both businesses and patrons.
- New City Position. The City Council created a new position, the Director of Homeless Planning and Outreach and funded it for 3-years. Andrew Henning, who currently runs the very successful Downtown Streets Team, has been hired. He is an excellent choice, well versed in San Rafael’s homeless issues and a strategic, thoughtful thinker. We needed a full-time person focused on this issue, and Andrew is a great pick.
- Ritter House. A perennial favorite topic in the community is providing homeless services downtown. The Mayor pointed out a few important truths about this. First, Ritter operates under a City Use Permit and their Permit is up for review right now. They’ve been saying they were going to relocate for 3 years. He says he is at the end of his patience with them. Watch for some news on this. Remember that half of Ritter’s clients are poor, not just the homeless.
- St. Vincent’s. on the other hand,St. Vincent’s has no Use Permit. They have owned and operated that site for many years, well before Use Permits were required. The City Attorney says you cannot legally go “back” and tell them they need a permit to run a restaurant there. So if St. Vincent’s is going to move, it will be up to them to make that decision. Like Ritter House, St. Vincent’s feeds the poor and not just the homeless. They also will not serve the troublemakers. The Mayor says there will be more on this situation moving forward.
- Learning from other examples. Vice Mayor Colin recently traveled to San Mateo with SRPD Chief Bishop, Ashley McIntyre, Marin County Homelessness Policy Analyst, and Christine Paquette, Executive Director of St Vincent’s to meet with officials about their successful Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). Apparently San Mateo has similar housing and homeless issues as San Rafael with low vacancy rates and high rents. Through HOT, San Mateo has gotten 60 chronically homeless people off the street in the last couple years. The program focuses on those who generate the most complaints, police calls and emergency room visits. Local service organization representatives meet and discuss each individual’s situation and assign responsibility (and accountability) for providing them with housing and health services. It’s a reminder that each homeless person is an individual with his or her own issues and needs. Costs per person to San Mateo County were reduced from $196/month to $29/month. The Vice Mayor and other officials are looking at how this model could work in San Rafael and in Marin County.
- Chronic Inebriates. Chronic Inebriates Program was supposed to start Feb 1 but Vice Mayor Colin couldn’t confirm it has begun. This is a Marin County program that was announced mid-2014 and that has taken way too long to get going. The concept is called Housing First. Chronic inebriates are housed first (better that they drink inside than out) and then provided services to focus on their drinking, and physical and mental health. This is a pilot program. Those with serious mental health issues (which includes many chronic inebriates) cannot get better if they don’t have a safe place to sleep. It all starts with housing. We’ll see if the County has gotten this started yet. Clearly the Board of Supervisors needs to be hearing more from the community about their role in responding to the homeless issue.
- SRPD Response. I brought up a recurring issue with the SRPD where residents report that their calls are not perceived as serious by the dispatcher. Corporal Reese explained clearly about staffing and priorities. Dominican is in Beat 4, which extends out to the Peacock Gap area and is the largest beat in the City. Officers patrol by themselves. If one needs back up, the other goes. So, for example, if an officer needs back up in the Canal district, one of ours will go there. Similarly, if there is a serious crime in process, officers will be diverted. Therefore, if we call in to request a drive-by due to a suspicious person, our request may get moved down the list if there is a real crime in progress or our beat officers are providing back up. This is a result of our general understaffing of the police department. Corporal Reese suggested that we demand that the dispatcher send a patrol car, and eventually one will come. You can also request a call back, and the officer that responds will call you. You can also email an officer (addresses online), but know that they work 3 days on and 3 days off so it may take a few days. We need to meet and know our four Beat officers.
There were comments from the audience expressing both sides of the issue. I am not detailing those as I didn’t take good enough notes to accurately represent them but comments can be made on this post.
The meeting was full of information and thank you to those who came out. This was a great opportunity to talk with our government representatives and let them hear what we are experiencing and how we feel.
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