ciab3My name is Cia Byrnes. I am a family nurse practitioner and the Executive Director of the Ritter Center.  Anyone taking a quick glance while driving by our facility on Ritter Street will probably see at least a few homeless people and think of us as a homeless hub. And yes, Ritter Center does provide services to individuals and families who are currently experiencing homelessness. But they are just the most visible population within a larger and expanding group in Marin who struggle every day just to make ends meet.

Poverty is a serious problem, even in an affluent county like Marin. Some of our clients were born into poverty, but for a growing number of others, they are seeking assistance for the first time in their lives. There are many debates about how these situations occur and about each individual’s degree of personal responsibility for their circumstances, but what we don’t debate at Ritter is that it is our job to help ease the burdens of being poor and to promote a community that values the well-being of all its members. The true impact of Ritter Center’s programs are often invisible and certainly cannot be seen driving down Ritter Street.

When you are poor, you often do not seek health services because you cannot afford to miss work, buy medications or pay your medical bills. Ritter Center helps out by providing free and low-cost preventive, primary, and behavioral health care each weekday at its Federally Qualified Health Center.  No one is turned away for inability to pay. And now with the Affordable Care Act, Ritter Center has helped hundreds of residents to enroll for Medi-Cal or purchase subsidized insurance.

When you are poor and struggle with paying for food or putting gas in your car to go to work, Ritter Center helps out. We have the largest food pantry in Marin, giving out over 8,000 pounds of food a week and 25,000 bags of groceries each year so people who are watching every dime don’t have to choose between eating well and getting to work.

When you are poor, you might have to put off paying your rent because your car needed a new transmission or you paid for your children’s much needed school supplies – Ritter Center helps out.  Last month we gave out over $25,000 in rental assistance and housing support.

And when you are poor and have exhausted all your support and resources, you could end up living on a friend’s couch, in your car, on the streets, or camped out in obscure hidden places around the county. That’s a pretty grim life. Often drugs and alcohol offer a momentary escape from that grimness and depression.  And Ritter Center can help. We offer free and low-cost counseling with licensed therapists each weekday, we help people with addictions enter into treatment programs and offer sobriety and other self-help groups.

With our help, many individuals and families have been hugely successful at turning around their lives, but just as importantly in our 35 years of service, we have made a difference in a million small ways, by providing the critical single thing that can prevent someone from sliding under. We look forward to using Ritter Center’s blog to share stories with you, including first-hand insights from our dedicated team on how they have helped our clients and what they have learned. We hope you will be part of this community, and hopefully part of the solution to ending poverty in Marin County. Thank you for participating in this important conversation.