By Chris Rooney Marinscope contributor Jun 10, 2015
Street patrol: Members of San Rafael’s Downtown Streets Team clean up the city’s neighborhoods. The Streets Team is a program to help benefit the city’s homeless by giving them a job and placing them back into society.
On the heels of a critical report from the Marin County civil grand jury accusing county officials of not doing enough to fight homelessness, San Rafael officials are ensuring that they’re doing their part to get involved.
While the report (“Homeless in Marin — A Call For Leadership”) doesn’t hold city officials accountable for most of the homelessness problems, it does point out that San Rafael carries the burden of having a significant proportion of the county’s homeless on its streets and in its parks.
“The City Council is very concerned about the impact of the street population on residents, business owners and visitors to our community,” said Economic Development Manager Stephanie Lovette. “The City Council is very aware of the current situation in our downtown, parks and library and has taken a series of actions to address the issue. Staff estimates the cost of these actions is about $1 Million annually.” At the June 1 meeting Lovette presented to the council the staff’s response to the grand jury report’s findings, two of which noted that San Rafael businesses suffer from homelessness and that the city has more homeless due to the fact that most of the homeless services are nearby.
The grand jury’s most scathing finding — “There is no coordinated, focused, systemic plan with a comprehensive budget to eliminate homelessness in Marin County” — was only somewhat accepted by Lovette and the staff. The city’s official response pointed to a 10-year plan that is “focused on achieving three outcomes: (1) reducing chronic homelessness, (2) reducing the total number of homeless individuals and families, and (3) reducing the time that people spend in programs before achieving self-sufficiency.”
The council agreed unanimously to accept the staff’s response and to send it along to the civil grand jury. Councilwoman Kate Colin said the staff “nailed it” and Mayor Gary Phillips said the grand jury’s assessment was “pretty frank” and that homelessness “still troubles our community.”
“The City adopted a Homeless Action Plan in June 2013,” Lovette said. “This plan was developed based on the recommendations of a community stakeholder group appointed by the City Council and city staff research on best practices from other California communities that are addressing this issue.”
She added that San Rafael’s plan includes a combination of enforcement, prevention and support actions including adding an additional downtown police officer (now three officers), adding an additional Open Space Ranger (now two rangers), adding a mental health professional in the police department for street outreach, securing additional funding for clearing encampments and launching the Downtown Streets Team to clean the downtown streets and provide employment opportunities and training for homeless persons.
There are more than 1,300 people in Marin experiencing homelessness and thousands more are at-risk of losing their housing, according the most recent point-in-time homeless count. “With the second most expensive rental market in the nation, one must work 176 hours per week at minimum wage to afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment and there are over 10,000 people on the waiting list to for subsidized housing,” states a city announcement.