Despite Marin County’s affluence and progressive culture, there continue to be hundreds of individuals and families who are unhoused. The issue of “homelessness” has not been an easy one to solve, but we should all be optimistic.Community leaders and organizations are working collectively — and hard — to find universal solutions that will aid individuals who are chronically unhoused as well as families who are temporarily without homes because of difficult circumstances.
We know that change is possible. For instance, collaborating agencies in Marin are studying the successes of Bergen County, New Jersey, a community that is similar to ours.
As one of the county’s major providers of counseling, supportive housing, health services and food to Marin’s unhoused community, Ritter Center leadership is an active participant in local efforts. We plan to continue to be “front and center.” Not only do we have the knowledge and skills, but it is our obligation.
To that end, I am pleased to report that Ritter Center is currently “on the move” (both literally and figuratively). We recognize that the location of Ritter Center services in downtown San Rafael has been challenging, so many of our efforts entail relocation of services.
- By Jan. 15, we will relinquish our administration building on Third and Ritter streets. Rather than renew the lease, we will relocate administrative functions to another location.
- In collaboration with the city of San Rafael, the county of Marin, and the Marin Community Foundation, portable showers will soon be available at sites across the county. As a result, Ritter Center will no longer need to provide showering facilities at our current site.
- We are pursuing two alternatives for client laundry services — again, with the goal of no longer providing these services at our current location.
- Recently, Ritter Center, in collaboration with the city of San Rafael, purchased post office boxes at the main San Rafael post office; our clients now use that facility instead of coming to our current campus for their mail.
- We have hired a nighttime security officer to help keep San Rafael’s downtown clean and compliant.
- We are assessing the operations of our food pantry (a collaborative effort with the SF-Marin Food Bank), which is currently open 40 hours per week and serves about 300 people per week. Because the pantry attracts large numbers on specific days, we will likely reduce the hours and create an appointment system to ensure that everyone has access to food.
What is the big picture for Ritter Center? By the end of 2018, we anticipate that we will no longer be located in downtown San Rafael. The lease for our main facility (the Victorian building where we provide case management and counseling services, and where many of our clients convene) will expire, and we don’t plan to renew it.
Will we continue to provide services? Absolutely! In fact, our current priority is to find a new location that will give us the ability to enhance services.
I’m optimistic, as we all should be. All of the agencies that are involved are committed to solving the issue of the unhoused. The imminent discontinuance of REST (the Rotating Emergency Shelter Team), a project of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in collaboration with the Marin Organizing Committee, has served as a catalyst for our focused efforts. (Over the past 10 years, REST has arranged for emergency housing at community locations for an average 60 individuals per night during the winter season.)
What can you do? Donate and/or volunteer, especially during the holiday season, which can be a particularly difficult time for the unhoused. Adopt a family and donate gifts, place a gift barrel at your place of work, or help at Ritter Center’s Dec. 21 holiday dinner. Visit our website at rittercenter.org for more information.
CEO of Ritter Center