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Changes Coming to the Ritter Center

Posted on August 27, 2016


The City-Ritter Memorandum of Understanding

At the August 15th City Council Meeting, the Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ritter Center to work in partnership on a number of operational changes at Ritter.  In an effort to continue to provide critical resources for people experiencing homelessness, while simultaneously addressing the growing concerns of residents and businesses that Ritter’s site has become too heavily impacted, the MOU is a major milestone in working together to address the community’s needs.  Through the MOU, we will be finding alternative locations for the following services:

1. Showers (Ritter provides up to 60 showers per day)

2. Food Pantry (The MOU only affects dedicated food portions for homeless individuals – Ritter receives approximately 90 such portions from the SF-Marin Food Bank.  Ritter will continue to provide 200 portions of food to housed clients)

3. Mail services (Ritter provides mail services to approximately 150 people, already down from about 400 previously)

Importantly, these changes will only go into effect, if and only if, the City with the help of Ritter, the SF-Marin Food Bank, and other partners like the County of Marin are able to identify comparable services in other areas.  In other words, Ritter will continue to provide mail services until we are able to establish mail services somewhere else (like at the main branch of the US Post Office, which is the current plan).  For a full rundown of the items in the MOU, please check out this past blog post.

Access to Dignity

Leading up to the August 15th meeting, the City worked with Ritter to survey current clients on their shower and food pantry needs.  Interestingly, the average shower user at Ritter receives 2.6 showers per week (think about what that means for a person’s hygiene).  With a weekly capacity of 300 showers, that means there are approximately 115 unique individuals who use this service at Ritter.  Assuming that people in shelter programs like Homeward Bound’s Mill Street Shelter and New Beginning Center have access to showers, that means that of the 835 unsheltered people counted in Marin’s 2015 Point  in Time Count (page 18), less than 15% of Marin’s unsheltered homeless community has access to dedicated shower services.  That same count also shows that only 30.5% of Marin’s unsheltered homeless population is in San Rafael.

Given the difficulty of finding and financing brick and mortar locations for emergency social services, mobile service models are emerging as a best practice for cost-effectively and efficiently reaching people where they are.  In addition to mobile showers and laundry, some communities have been able to incorporate medical services, eligibility workers, and other supportive services into their mobile models.  Given the geographic dispersion of homeless people in Marin, as we work with Ritter, we would also like to work with other providers, partners, and communities in an “Access to Dignity” campaign that helps serve people where they are.

Dignity on Wheels' mobile shower and laundry unit in Sunnyvale, CA
Dignity on Wheels’ mobile shower and laundry unit in Sunnyvale, CA
Shower to the People mobile shower based in St. Louis, MO
Shower to the People mobile shower based in St. Louis, MO
Gardner Health Services' mobile medical unit in Santa Clara County
Gardner Health Services’ mobile medical unit in Santa Clara County

Going the Extra Mile 

In addition to the changes outlined in the MOU, Ritter and the City have been meeting to discuss a variety of other operational changes that we think will have a very positive impact on the businesses and residents near the center:

Challenge 1 – Traffic overflow on Ritter Street

SOLUTION – Ritter will be creating an appointment system for the remaining food pantry clients to help prevent service rushes that create excess congestion and activity on Ritter Street.

Computer scheduling

Challenge 2 – Ritter’s very visible delivery truck

SOLUTION  – The City has identified a suitable permit parking space for Ritter’s truck in order to create more visibility on the street.

Truck in front of Ritter

Challenge 3 – Discarded clothing

SOLUTION  – Ritter will no longer be providing an open clothing closet.  Instead, people will have to meet directly with a case manager, and clothing will be tied to a specific outcome or goal (e.g. clothing for a job interview).

Clothes Closetple in

Challenge 4 – Eyes and ears on the street to provide outreach to peoneed while also liaising with nearby businesses.

SOLUTION  – Downtown Streets Team is piloting an “ambassador program” with a dedicated crew of Team Members working around the Ritter Center.

Downtown Streets Team

Challenge 5 – Discarded and stashed personal belongings on private property

SOLUTION  – Ritter will be hosting a “Lost and Found” maintained by Downtown Streets Team.  If DST finds stashed or discarded personal items around Ritter, they will warn people not to do this, and if it continues, those items will be moved to the “Lost and Found” at Ritter where people must go reclaim their items.

Lost and found sign

Challenge 6 – People aren’t using the day services area at Ritter because they have too many possessions.

SOLUTION  – Ritter will be installing more spacious lockers to accommodate people with more belongings so they’re not sitting on the street or in front of businesses with all of their possessions.


Challenge 7 – People loitering in front of Downtown businesses to use wifi and/or electrical outlets (think the corners at 4th and A).

SOLUTION  – Ritter will provide electrical charging stations and wifi at the day services center to encourage people to be on the Ritter site and not on the street.

Phones charging

Why Does This Matter?

The MOU and the changes outlined above are critical for three main reasons:

  1. They show the City and Ritter hear the concerns and feedback from community members like you, and we’re taking action.
  2. As we remain committed to finding a new home for Ritter, these changes show any future neighbor that Ritter is open and able to make changes, and we’re not just “Taking a problem in Downtown and moving it somewhere else.”
  3. As we make these changes, not only can we preserve the level of service for people in need, but we can also increase access to dignified emergency services throughout our community.
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