Homeless Encampment Fire, Assault, and Proposed Camping Ordinance

Posted on July 17, 2023

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San Rafael, CA – On 07/14/2023, San Rafael Police Department officers arrested a fifty-five-year-old San Rafael resident, for assaulting a victim and setting a tent on fire in the area of the Mahon Creek path, where a large homeless encampment has grown significantly over the last several months. The victim was treated and is expected to recover. The suspect was booked into the Marin County Jail on felony charges.

At approximately 6:16 AM, the San Rafael Police Department received calls about a fire in the area of the Mahon Creek path in the 700 block of Lincoln Avenue. San Rafael firefighters and police officers arrived and located a tent in the encampment fully engulfed in flames. The firefighters promptly extinguished the fire before the fire spread to adjacent tents and vegetation.

The police investigation of the incident determined that the suspect and victim were acquaintances and argued over a cell phone. The argument escalated to the point that the suspect swung a gardening machete at the victim, causing a visible injury. The victim walked away, but the suspect continued to escalate and then set her own tent on fire.  Based on the investigation, it appeared this was an isolated incident. There was no damage to other structures, and other than the victim, no one else was injured.

The suspect was booked into the Marin County Jail for causing a fire of an inhabited structure, a felony, and felony assault with a deadly weapon. The victim, in this case, is expected to recover.

On July 10th, the City of San Rafael introduced an ordinance which would prohibit establishing any camping area within 200 ft. of another camping area. Each camping area would also be limited in size to 10 ft. by 10 ft. (100 sq. ft.) when it is occupied by one person and may be expanded to 10 ft. by 20 ft. (200 sq. ft.) for two or more persons camping together. The proposed ordinance allows for two or more people to camp for those who feel safer camping together.

These proposed regulations are intended to prevent violent events like this and ultimately protect those who are living unsheltered. When groups of unsheltered persons camp in close proximity to one another on public property, forming a larger encampment, the personal safety, public health, and hazards are concentrated in and around that property and have significant negative impacts on the neighboring residents, businesses, and community.

At locations where high-concentration encampments have been established, such as the Mahon Creek path, the City responds to a significant increase in volume of public safety calls for service and complaints as compared with locations where campsites are more isolated and distanced from one another. The increased calls for service at encampments include sanitation, human waste, biohazards, and litter and refuse; abandonment of personal property; vandalism; theft; physical fights amongst the campers; public alcohol consumption and intoxication; drug possession and use, including reports of drug overdose, requiring medical transport to the hospital; obstruction of sidewalks, pathways, and other public rights of way; campfires; and disruptive behavior of encampment occupants.

If the ordinance is adopted, City staff will collaborate with our County of Marin health and human service partners and nonprofit service providers in San Rafael to support individuals experiencing homelessness currently living at the Mahone Creek path, by offering case management services and helping them transition to alternative locations, and offering temporary shelter, and/or interim housing when available.

The City Council’s objective is to end homelessness in the City, and to this end the City has made significant investments in solutions to homelessness, particularly permanent supportive housing. The City additionally conducts outreach and housing navigation to individuals experiencing homelessness, and funds organizations to provide shelter and case management.

The City has dedicated significant resources to assist residents experiencing homelessness including contributions from made to 190 Mill Street (~$1.1M), and 3301 Kerner Boulevard (~$2.1M), providing up to 40 shelter beds and 32 units of permanent supportive housing. Additionally, the city has allocated over $1M in funding to service providers for case management services, mobile showers, housing navigation, outreach and employment readiness services in the City.

The San Rafael Police Department is also providing $775,000 annually to funding a three-year pilot alternative response team (Specialized Assistance For Everyone (SAFE) Team) providing mobile crisis to the community, especially to vulnerable populations, 12 hours/day and 7 days/week, by dispatching crisis intervention workers with an emergency medical technician to respond to certain emergencies such as suicide prevention and psychiatric emergencies instead of law enforcement.

For questions, please contact Chris A. Hess,  the Assistant Director of Community Development, Housing and Homelessness Programs, at 415-458-5017.

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