SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - An innovative proposal to consolidate all of San Rafael's considerable homeless population at the county's Civic Center is going to be a fight at a very public government center that also has hundreds of events, concerts, plays, picnics and a fair every year. Part of that future may include a temporary homeless encampment that could be here for quite some time.
Federal courts have ruled that cities cannot evict homeless encampments unless they can provide shelter space to all. So, Marin has numerous homeless camps in San Rafael and countywide.
Camps are not fun or safe, especially for women such a Suzanne who said this,"This is the worst thing I've ever been through. My husband died. Things changed. Prostitution drugs, everything. I don't deal with that. s**t".
Lifelong San Rafael resident Rob Espstein, who happens to be San Rafael's City Attorney, expressed his personal, non-official opinion on a possible fix. "On an interim temporary basis, conducting some sort of sanctioned camping at the 160-acre County Civic Center property with an intent that would be over at a time we could get people into housing," said Mr. Epstein. "I think it's a great idea really because to keep us all together will keep us able to help each other out," said Anker, an encampment dweller. "Having them together, we're gonna be able to bring more resources directly to them," said Alec Bradbury a nurse practitioner for the Ritter Center for the homeless.
With that, San Rafael, Marin's largest town, could remove encampments public walkways, parks and streets "Encampments aren't good for the community. They're not good for the neighborhood. They cause a lot of concerns for residents and businesses," said Mark Shotwell, the Director of the Ritter Center.
The fact is, the Civic Center does have a lot of open space and it is open space where you could put a camp. The problem is that there are neighbors who might not enjoy looking out on that including an office complex and a very large hotel right next to it.
But, Marin's 10 other towns might also want to place their homeless folks here, which could turn it into a much larger homeless mini-city. The county already provides 160 beds for homeless throughout unincorporated Marin, saying a big Civic Center camp is unsustainable. "We have over 300 community events in any one year. We have this as a vibrant government center where residents need to do their public business. We have our courts; people for jury need to use our jury parking lot," said Matthew Hymel, Marin County Administrator.
Until all people have access to shelter the growing homeless population will continue to expand.