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Ritter Center expansion draws criticism

with 2 comments

A Friday article in my local paper (The Marin Independent Journal) about the Ritter Center caught my eye because I’ve done some photography there. Ritter does a great job of providing support for homeless and low-income people in Marin County, but it seems some of its neighbors aren’t so sure.

A citizens group is questioning the wisdom of allowing the Center to install a double-wide trailer on its overcrowded San Rafael campus. The trailer will be used to expand its medical, mental health and substance abuse programs to serve more diverse populations.  Critics say this would make an already difficult neighborhood environment intolerable.

Ritter Center, San Rafael, Califonria

The Ritter Center, San Rafael, California

The IJ article quotes the owner of an auto repair shop near Ritter: “All day long they deal drugs here on the street. When they see the police officers, they’re running to the Ritter Center.” He reportedly also said he’s tired of the raucous street gatherings of drunken clients after being physically assaulted and having to deal every day with feces and urine on his property.

I don’t know about feces and urine, but it’s true that groups of homeless people often hang out in the tiny public park at Ritter’s main entrance, and sometimes things are a mess. Some of this is unavoidable with any program serving a marginalized population with no place to call home, but it got me thinking about what might be done to address neighborhood concerns.

A move to a larger campus would better serve a diverse range of clients

Apparently there are plans to eventually move the program to a larger, more suitable location. A good idea. To me, the current campus is too small to accommodate all of its needs, especially if it intends to serve a more diverse population of women, children, families and the elderly. As things stand now, clients walking to the new clinic will have to negotiate their way through a sometimes raucous group of bystanders, the same group neighborhood critics are complaining about.  And on rainy days, the only outside covered area is reserved for smokers.

Larger waiting-room

The large waiting room in the proposed new double-wide trailer might improve the problem of loitering about the premises, but I question how much.

The folks who congregate at the Ritter Center are often not waiting for medical or other services, but just passing time.

The center has become a convenient place for homeless people to hang out and socialize. Unfortunately, some bring with them their drinking, smoking, and drug habits. And some of the homeless who frequent the Center suffer from untreated mental illnesses, at times fueling off-putting behaviors. It will take careful planning and supervision to make sure the Center is able to serve a wider spectrum on people, all people in need of help.  Although not everyone who spends time at Ritter is abusing the privilege, there is enough unacceptable behavior going on to discourage people in recovery or otherwise wanting a healthy and safe place to receive services.

So a larger site will help, but I think there are some things that can be done now that would help reduce neighborhood reservations about the Ritter Center.

Made the Center attractive to a more diverse clientele

Taking steps to make the campus more attractive to a wider range of  clients will not only help it serve more people in need, but will also reduce the number of bad actors that are at the root of neighborhood complaints.  What specifically do I have in mind?

Enforce a drug-free environment

The center should make it clear that drinking, smoking and using and selling drugs will not be tolerated on the Ritter Center grounds. All cigarette smoking areas should be eliminated. Making the Center a drug-free zone might temporarily increase these behaviors on the street, but would be mitigated by long term results. How to do this?

Hire security personnel

Security personnel on the promises would help assure the safety of staff and the well-being of everyone seeking services. A security person could monitor activities on campus, and also discourage unlawful or disruptive behaviors at the gate.

Install security cameras

Security cameras won’t entirely prevent bad behavior, but they will discourage it. Some might argue that this is an invasion of privacy, but this a moot point in today’s reality. There’s no longer an assumption of privacy in places where people gather, and here are cameras in almost every facility serving the homeless. The Ritter Center shouldn’t be an exception.

At least that’s my take on things.


Written by Ron Greene

February 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Photography

2 Responses

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  1. HI,Ron!
    I am really enjoying your blog comments and beautiful photos! I wanted to repost to my college psychology professor,Gale Thompson, who lives in Missouri, but lived in SF “back in the day” and I’m sure would be a kindred spirit. I was telling Rica about him. I thought I saw an icon for FB to share, but didn’t see it today on the blog page. Maybe I have to be connecting only through the emailed version as opposed to a public access? I’ll keep fiddling- I’m a techno-idiot!! Best to you, Katherine

    Katherine Manning

    March 3, 2012 at 11:44 am

    • OK, got it now that I’m logged in…KM

      Katherine Manning

      March 3, 2012 at 11:50 am

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