On Monday night, the City Council held a follow up public hearing to review the Ritter Center’s Use Permit. There has been a lot of information circulating about this issue, and the point of this blog is to provide clear and accurate information from the City’s point of view. The most important takeaway from this newsletter is: by pursuing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Ritter, we believe we can partner with Ritter to decrease the number of on-site service transactions by hundreds per week. This will help Ritter continue to pursue its core services like healthcare and behavioral health treatment while also lessening the neighborhood impact of so many service transactions in one small location.
2 and ½ Months ago …
- On March 21, 2016, the City Council reviewed the Ritter Center’s 6-month performance report. This was the fifth such report created by City staff working in conjunction with Ritter Center staff.
- Responding to community concerns, the City Council then directed staff to go back and research options ranging from modifying Ritter Center’s Use Permit to instituting a moratorium on services.
- The City Council also created two sub-committees. One subcommittee, composed of Vice Mayor Colin and Councilmember Bushey, has been looking at modifications to Ritter’s current operations, and the other sub-committee, composed of Mayor Phillips and Councilmember Gamblin, has been looking at relocation options.
June 6th, 2016 City Council
Since the Ritter Center was established in 1980, it has gradually grown over the years to address more aspects of homelessness and poverty in our community. The City Council has said it before and reiterated it again Monday night – the services Ritter Center provides are critical to both helping people end their homelessness and also preventing it in the first place. That being said, there has been increasing community concern that Ritter Center has now overgrown their current location.
To be crystal clear, relocation remains our top priority. It is the upstream solution we need to truly resolve this issue. The City is continuing discussions with both Ritter and the County to figure out a solution.
In the meantime, since the March 21st meeting, City staff and the operations subcommittee have been working with Ritter’s staff and board of directors to determine if there are operational changes we can make in the short term to not only reduce the level of activity at Ritter Center but also provide housed and unhoused community members with a comparable level of service. We are working collaboratively on win-win solutions, and the MOU has been seen as an ideal vehicle for finding compromise. The MOU is not automatically creating the changes, but instead, the MOU creates a framework for changes when comparable replacements services for Ritter’s clients are made available elsewhere.
What Happened Monday Night
Right now the Ritter’s Use Permit regulates the number of unduplicated individuals who can receive either a shower and/or a medical visit on a given day. Currently Ritter can provide 60 unduplicated individuals with these services on a given day. In other words, someone could receive a shower AND a medical visit, but it only counts as 1 towards the cap of 60. Or someone could receive just a shower and it counts as 1 too. It is important to note that Ritter offers a wide variety of “service transactions” outside of what the Use Permit governs. Because many people had been calling for a cut in the Use Permit number, that was Staff’s benchmark for any other operational recommendations. If, for example, the Use Permit was cut from 60 to 45, there would be 15 fewer service transactions a day (75 fewer per week). Therefore we asked ourselves, without touching the core, transformational services that Ritter offers like medical, case management, and behavioral health services, can we work in partnership with Ritter’s staff and board to decrease the level of activity on-site around other services?
Recommendation #1 – According to Ritter, they offer 4,500 medical visits a year. That breaks down to approximately 20 visits a day. Therefore, if Ritter did not offer showers on-site, there would be approximately 40-60 fewer transactions on-site per day (200-300 per week). Mobile showers are proving to be a best practice in Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and San Francisco. Mobile showers have the added benefit that they can then visit homeless individuals in other communities like Sausalito, Fairfax, and Novato. And to be sure, homeless people from these communities are coming to San Rafael for that service. Thus we recommend moving to mobile showers.
Recommendation #2 – Next we looked at mail services. In the past, Ritter has provided approximately 400 people with mail services. Earlier this year they changed their policy, so they are only providing mail services to active clients (i.e. people actually receiving services at Ritter). This has cut mail usage to approximately 150 people. Thus, we recommend moving mail services off-site, which would result in 150-400 fewer transactions at Ritter. Through this process, we also want to work in partnership to figure out if there are ways to address residency requirements.
Recommendations #3 – Lastly, we looked at the food pantry. According to the SF-Marin Food Bank, Ritter receives 290 units of food a week, with 90 being for homeless individuals and 200 being for housed individuals. By moving food for homeless individuals off-site, that decreases visits per week by 90. If we also moved food portions for housed individuals offsite, that would be an additional 200 fewer visits. According to the SF-Marin Food Bank, housed individuals are supposed to write down their address when they receive food. It would be very to take these addresses, plot them on a map, and then see if there are other locations in the community that actually provide closer, more accessible food access. Therefore, we recommend working with Ritter Center and the SF-Marin Food Bank to move food pantry services off-site.
By going the MOU route, we believe we can partner with Ritter to decrease the number of on-site service transactions by hundreds per week. This will help Ritter continue to pursue its core services like healthcare and behavioral health treatment while also lessening the neighborhood impact of so many service transactions in one small location.
As many have noted, the devil is indeed in the details. On Monday night, staff was simply seeking approval to begin pursuing this MOU. The City Council has asked staff to return in 45-60 days to work with Ritter on an MOU. This MOU will have specific timelines and deadlines for implementing these changes. Staff will provide updates at every City Council meeting until then, so please stay tuned for more updates.