San Rafael Yacht Harbor tenants frustrated with surge of homeless people using showers

The San Rafael Yacht Harbor is seeing a surge in homeless people, attracted by showers that are supposed to be used by tenants.

In a case of unintended consequences, the closure of showers at a homeless service center has sent them streaming to the waterfront on East Francisco Blvd in the Canal District.

"They wait here until someone comes out, and then barge their way in," said Harbormaster Matt Butler, describing how transients access the locked restroom and shower, next to his office.

"Once one gets in, they just hold the door open and take turns and everybody gets to use the shower all night long," Butler told KTVU.

As Harbormaster for 20 years, Butler has always had compassion for the homeless and allows a few people to camp in their cars on the property, but he finds the new influx of people different.

"We've had some people pretty aggressive about going in the shower, and if they have to knock you on the floor to get in, they'll do that."

The harbor has 160 berths and about a third of the tenants live on their boats.

Those tenants are also upset about the late night intruders and the noise, trash, and drug activity.

"I heard somebody was actually cooking heroin in front of the surveillance camera a few days ago," said tenant Julian Constantine, who lives aboard his boat.

Butler shared the security video with KTVU, showing someone cooking and selling heroin outside the shower door.

On that occasion police were called, but usually tenants just tolerate the commotion and constant flow of people at all hours.

As for taking a shower themselves? "You're waiting- for a wet guy, his wet girlfriend, with a wet bicycle, and a big wet dog to come out," said live-aboard tenant Kevin Courtney, "and just waiting is tough."

On the other side of the 101 freeway, sits Ritter Center, San Rafael's hub of homeless services.

"We still offer laundry services and public restrooms," said Simon Tiles, Director of Operations and Community Outreach.

Tiles led KTVU past washers and dryers to the four private showers that until January were in almost continuous use by homeless clients.

They are locked now, as part of the city's desire to disperse the homeless population away from downtown merchants.

In their place, a mobile shower was launched, known as Marin Mobile Care. For the most part, the mobile showers require a reservation, and are available only in the mornings, from 6 am to 9 am at most locations, which can be miles away in Novato or Sausalito.

"I don't know many people who've been using it honestly," admitted Sarah Boushey, who has been experiencing homelessness off and on for several years.

Boushey says traveling to the shower trailer is a hurdle for people with mobility issues, no vehicle, or possessions to tote.

"It's a pain in the neck, because it's not there every day, it's early in the morning, and it's far away," she complained.

Tiles, at Ritter Center, has heard the gripes and acknowledges the showers at his facility are missed.

"For a lot of our clients who hang around downtown, it's a challenge to find the mobile showers," said Tiles," and we know there is a period of adjustment, and a learning curve."

He was not aware clients had shifted to the yacht harbor to soap up.

"Homeless people are very resourceful so I'm not surprised they're figuring out a way to take showers," said Tiles.

For now, no solution, as tenants grow weary of confrontations with homeless individuals.

"You don't live here and you don't pay rent here," said live-aboard tenant Amy Robinson, "I feel real bad they don't have a place to shower, but I can't believe they shut down that facility."

Harbormaster Butler vented his concerns to the San Rafael City Council this week, noting that cleanliness is essential to public health and sanitation, and urging them to make it easier, not more difficult, for people to be clean.

"I would love to see Ritter House showers re-opened," said Butler.

Until there is a remedy, he plans to upgrade his surveillance system, increasingly concerned about theft and vandalism to boats under repair.

And Butler will keep cleaning up the mess that greets him every day.

"I get here at 5:30, 6 in the morning and sometimes the party is just wrapping up when I get here," he said glumly.