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An Update on Ritter Relocation

Posted on August 19, 2016

Map of the Opportunity Center

by Andrew Hening, Director of Homeless Planning & Outreach

Celebrating Ongoing Partnership

As a quick refresher, Ritter Center has been looking for a new site for over three years, and in March, the City Council established a subcommittee comprised of Mayor Phillips, Councilmember Gamblin, and City staff to help intensify the search efforts.  At the same time as searching for a new location for Ritter, the City, the County, and a number of nonprofit partners have also been discussing the possibility a “multi-service center” model.  Communities across the country have demonstrated that these streamlined service centers provide more effective care for those in need, create an efficient shared working space for multiple providers that ends duplication of efforts, and mitigate the negative impacts of having multiple providers scattered throughout the community.

In looking for a site not located in Downtown or a residential area, Ritter has explored almost 30 locations, and one site in particular, 67 Mark Drive in North San Rafael, has received significant attention. The current Ritter operation encompasses 7,000 sq. ft.  67 Mark Drive is almost 20,000 sq. ft.  In an effort to figure out a use for the remaining space, Ritter was able to bring the County of Marin and additional service provider partners together to discuss actually implementing the “multi-service center” concept.  This nuts-and-bolts collaboration is unprecedented.  Yet this degree of new collaboration also takes time, and before these partners were able to put together a formal proposal, Ritter informed the City that the owner of that site received another offer on the building.

Valuable Community Feedback for a Future Proposal

One of the best outcomes from this process has been the tremendous amount of public feedback about Mark Drive, all of which the City has been relaying to Ritter, the County, and the other partners.  As you’ll remember from a past post in June, when Ritter relocates, they will have to apply for a new use permit.  Based on a wide variety of in-person meetings, phone calls, articles, social media posts, and emails from community members like you, the City has conveyed to Ritter that any application must be able to answer overarching questions like:

  1. What happens after hours? 
  2. What sort of day programming will be offered?
  3. What does staffing and management look like? 
  4. How will misbehavior be addressed and prevented? 
  5. How do you ensure consistent enforcement of rules and policies? 
  6. How are people going to get there? 
  7. How will the site be financed? 
  8. Will there be an impact on nearby businesses?
  9. Are additional services going to be provided in other communities throughout Marin? 
  10. Will there be housing on-site?  Shelter?  Both?

These are difficult enough questions for just one organization looking at a major move, let alone a coalition of entities partnering for the first time. Ultimately a plan was not put together before someone else acquired Mark Drive, but the quest to answer these questions will continue.

A Model That Works

Palo Alto Opportunity Center
The Opportunity Center in Palo Alto, CA

We have two main opportunities moving forward.  First, we are continuing the search for a site for Ritter alone.  Importantly, as of Monday night, the Ritter Center has formally committed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the City to modify aspects of their operation in Downtown in order to lessen their impact on immediate neighbors and businesses.  You can watch the video from Monday night’s hearing, read about the changes, and I will be sending an official update on the changes next Friday.  The importance of this agreement cannot be understated.  Relocation is not “picking up the problems at Ritter and dropping them somewhere else,” which is a common concern we’ve heard from the community.  The City and Ritter know the status quo is not working, and policies and programs are changing.  The City applauds Ritter for this action.

The other opportunity (we are exploring both opportunities simultaneously) is to continue exploring possibilities for a multi-service center.  In my view, the gold standard of “multi-service centers” is the Opportunity Center in Palo Alto.  Since its completion in the mid-2000s, “The OC” as it is affectionately called has had a profound impact in Palo Alto.  It centralized the City’s service providers under one roof (who had been coincidentally downtown); it helped the hardest-to-serve obtain housing and rebuild their lives; it helped revitalize Downtown Palo Alto; and through its operational model, it smoothly integrated into an affluent, commercial area.  In other words, it basically answered all of the questions above and has continued to answer them for over a decade.

Come Learn More in October

To continue to leverage the momentum for relocation, in October we will share an informational presentation to the City Council about the Opportunity Center – how it was built, how it was paid for, its impact, who and how they run it, etc.  During that presentation we will also discuss remaining potential site locations.  The exact details will be in an upcoming blog post.

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