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Are San Rafael’s Homeless Spooking Downtown Shoppers?

The city’s homeless population of approximately 900 is hurting downtown merchants, San Rafael business leader says.

Credit: Santa Cruz Patch
Credit: Santa Cruz Patch

San Rafael prides itself for a history of helping the less fortunate that traces its roots to the 19th Century.

But downtown merchants are bearing the cost of the city’s 21st Century compassion, and many don’t like it.

That’s according to a San Rafael business leader, who told the San Francisco Chronicle that the city’s homeless population of approximately 900 is spooking downtown visitors.

San Rafael’s moderate climate, abundance of social services and generally tolerant attitude has made the city a magnet for a homeless population that’s swelled nationally amid a long-term economic downturn.

More than two thirds of the city’s downtown business owners believe the homeless population has hurt their bottom line, Downtown Business Association Director Carol Thompson told the Chronicle.

"People say they don't want to come to downtown San Rafael because they're afraid of the homeless,” Thompson said.

“It's very frustrating because there's very little we can do about it."

San Rafael is doing what it can.

Earlier this year Police Chief Diana Bishop told Patch that homelessness and quality of life issues were her department’s top priorities.

And not all of city’s social programs are handouts. The Downtown Streets Team is empowering the city’s homeless through street cleaning programs that aim to help them develop more stable lifestyles.

But problems persist.

San Rafael homeless encampments have been traced to separate vegetation fires on Du Bois Street in October and earlier this month on Kerner Boulevard.

Christine Paquette, who heads a program at St. Vincent that provides services to the poor, acknowledged in the Chronicle report that she’s witnessed come of the cringe-worthy behavior others have described.

"Some of the homeless certainly cross the line,” Paquette said.  “The pit bulls, the tossing of the f-word when you're walking down the street with your 6-year-old and Grandma - people aren't used to that, and they don't expect it. Especially in Marin.

“For some people, an experience like that can ruin their afternoon."

Does San Rafael’s downtown homeless population concern you? Share your thoughts in our comments section.

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