On March 7th, I will have officially been the City’s Director of Homeless Planning & Outreach for one year (it’s been a great honor, thank you!). Later this spring our community will be receiving the results from our 2017 Homeless Point-in-Time Count, which is one of the best benchmarks we have for assessing whether or not our community is making progress on this issue. After six months of planning, on January 27th almost 100 community volunteers were deployed across census tracks covering the entire county, for what I believe was Marin’s most comprehensive Point-in-Time Count to-date. As I look back over the past 12 months, the City has taken a number of significant steps that will hopefully positively impact those results.
- To kick off my third week on the job last March, we had a 200-person City Council meeting that centered on whether or not the City should revoke the Ritter Center’s use permit. In the end, we came up with a creative agreement whereby Ritter would stop providing mail, shower, and homeless pantry services if comparable services were established elsewhere. As of March 1st, the mail services have been moved, and mobile, countywide showers and pantry services will be launching this summer.
- Thanks to leadership from St. Vincent’s and partnerships with local organizations like Ritter, the County of Marin, and Marin Housing Authority, we launched the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) Pilot Program as an innovative new approach to helping the most at-risk and disruptive people in Downtown San Rafael get off the street and into housing. For the initial pilot group, we have seen an 80% reduction in police contacts, and the folks in the program have been off the street 70% of the time. The County of Marin is now funding the program.
- In a survey last summer, 81% of Downtown businesses said they wanted something done about panhandling. In the fall we launched the “Put Your Change to Work” Campaign in partnership with Downtown Streets Team to find a dignified response to this challenge (check out a video about the effort). Through that program Downtown Streets Team raised $60,000 from local sponsors to offset the City’s contribution to the Downtown program.
- In addition to the “Put Your Change to Work” campaign, the City has renewed a very successful expansion of the Downtown Streets Team to cover the Mahon Creek Trail and Davidson Middle School. In December, Davidson Middle School’s Principal Bob Marcucci informed the City that he has had zero complaints from students or families about the impacts of homelessness on the way to school since the expansion kicked off last January.
- After a very successful park revitalization in Boyd Park, the City is working closely with community members around Albert Park on a similar renovation for new playground space next to the Community Center. We want to give a huge shout out to the B Team for their help on this project. The official unveiling of the first playground design will be next Thursday, March 2nd at 7pm at the B Street Community Center if you’d like to come and provide feedback.
- Our dedicated Downtown Foot Patrol has continued to be an amazing resource in Downtown and the surrounding parks and neighborhoods, and Lynn Murphy – our incredible mental health resource officer, who last year helped connect over 20 high-needs people in Downtown with housing – was named the San Rafael Employee of the Year. The Downtown Foot Patrol over the last year has included Officer Dave Casalnuovo, Officer Anthony Scalerio, Officer Marc LaPlante, Sgt. Scott Eberle, Officer Chris Fuller, Cpl. Scott Ingels, Sgt. Roy Leon, and Lt. Alan Piombo.
- Through the City’s commitment to the Community Homeless Fund, we have continued to support the REST program, which provides additional emergency shelter during the winter months above and beyond the shelter services Homeward Bound provides year round. Despite these excellent programs, the sad truth is that our community lacks sufficient shelter opportunities for all of those in need. As a result of the cold and wet weather we’ve been experiencing, many people have been looking for respite in doorways and commercial spaces in our Downtown. It’s not a good situation for people sleeping on the street, and it’s not a good situation for our businesses and residents.
- To create a more coordinated, City-wide response to this issue, in the fall we kicked off our “Inter-Departmental Task Force on Homelessness” to initially focus on cross department incident-reporting and provider referrals. Though “homelessness” is in my title, there are countless City employees working on this issue, and I want to recognize and thank them for their commitment and hard work!
Since I started this job, I have heard again and again that San Rafael cannot do this alone. In addition to building closer working relationships with all of our service providers, the City is also working more closely than ever with the County of Marin and our sister cities in Marin. This is absolutely a team effort, and we have been working tirelessly to bring all of the right players to the table around a shared vision and strategy. But what should that strategy be?
Nothing this past year has surprised or impressed me more than HOT’s success helping chronically homeless people return to housing (and the community benefit and cost savings that have resulted). In 2017, we must dramatically expand our efforts to end chronic homelessness in Marin. I’ll tell you why next week!