San Rafael officials are aware of one East Bay city's plan to pay homeless residents to vacate city land, but they aren't sure such a plan would work in Marin.
San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips said his council hasn't discussed the idea of paying homeless people to relocate, but that it's something worth considering.
"At this point, I've certainly thought about it," Phillips said. "I've received a number of emails just this week about encampments at Dominican. They're up in arms."
The city of Albany recently reached a settlement agreement with 28 homeless people and Albany Housing Advocates to pay transients $3,000 each to leave a former landfill that will be incorporated into a state park. In return, the homeless have to promise not to return to the Albany Bulb area for at least a year.
Homeless advocates filed the suit in November after Albany tried to evict residents, some of whom have lived there for 15 years, by heavily enforcing its anti-camping ordinance. The city previously tried to remove the population in 1999, but the encampments returned.
San Rafael's longstanding homeless population has been a source of heated contention among city officials, homeless advocates, service providers and business owners. Within the past two years the city created a "quality of life" initiative that called for increased police patrols and enforcement of minor infractions such as jaywalking, drinking alcohol from open containers and urinating in public.
The city also hired a homeless liaison for the police department, hired a second part-time open space police officer and entered into a $272,000 contract with the Downtown Streets Team - a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that helps homeless people find work and rebuild their lives.
But paying homeless residents to move is a new concept for San Rafael, and one that could be expensive given there are more than 933 homeless people in Marin, 48 percent of which live in San Rafael, according to the county's 2013 biennial homeless census.
Ben Leroi, Ritter Center deputy director, said Ritter Center and the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County, both of which help low-income and homeless residents, try their best to prevent homelessness and help people obtain housing. The nonprofits will pay transportation costs for a homeless person trying to get home or to a relative's house where they can live.
Leroi said simply paying people to move won't solve the complex homeless issue.
"For a lot of people this is their home, I'm not sure where they'd go," Leroi said. "If they're compensated for it, they'll move somewhere else. It's not solving the problem."
Deanna Euritt, executive director of the nonprofit Novato Human Needs Center, agreed.
"I understand what they're trying to do, but it moves it into someone else's backyard. We need to have resources that are more appropriate for people who do seem to be chronically homeless," Euritt said.
Phillips said he has been eying a program in Santa Monica called Project Homecoming, which links homeless individuals with family and friends who are willing to offer permanent housing. From May 2006 to June 2013, the city helped 1,365 people at an average cost of $204 per person.
"It's on my mind. I need to explore the pros and cons," Phillips said.
For San Rafael City Councilwoman Kate Colin, who chairs the city's homeless subcommittee, Albany's move is more of a land use issue in which the settlement won't really help homeless residents.
"I think it's pretty simplistic to think the issue of homelessness can be solved by giving people money and having them move away," Colin said, adding that those people will just move to Richmond or Berkeley. "It's much more complicated than that."
©2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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