Transit Agencies Improve Impact on Homeless Population

Blog posted On November 21, 2018

As many of us give thanks this week for our loving families and happy homes, it’s important to remember those who are more vulnerable and experiencing hardships like homelessness.  Partnerships like “Hub of Hope” between Philadelphia’s SEPTA transit system and Project HOME, a social service agency, strive to reach homeless transit passengers and intervene with assistance to help them overcome their crises.  

In 2016, a study from the Transportation Research Board showed that an overwhelming 91% of transit agencies reported homelessness as an issue, with 31% weighing it as a major issue.  In metro areas with overcrowded shelters, transit stations become de facto shelters, especially in instances of extreme weather.  Transit police are faced with limited options, to either arrest the homeless for trespassing, or transport those afflicted by mental illness or addiction problems temporarily to emergency rooms or hospitals.  Project HOME’s director of outreach, Carol Thomas, explained, “Our goal is to end chronic street homelessness.  How do you end homelessness?  Housing.”

Project HOME converted an 800-square-foot storefront inside the underground SEPTA system near Penn Center downtown to provide food, coffee, plus a place to rest for homeless transit passengers.  The organization leverages a combined workforce of paid employees and volunteers to get connected with social services in a welcoming atmosphere.  Social workers are trained to recognize the “treatable moment” when someone who is suffering from a mental illness or addiction problems is willing to seek help.  Planning consultant, Dan Boyle, praised the efforts of Project HOME, commenting “the ability to do client intake on site at the transit station or center is very effective in persuading people who are homeless to seek and accept help.”

Other transit agencies around the country are similarly stepping up to intervene and provide services for homeless transit passengers.  In San Francisco, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is experiencing an increase in homeless people camping out at the bottom of transit stations, leading to an increase in debris and trash.  To mitigate sanitation and hygiene issues, BART stations have increased restroom hours, attended by staff.  They’ve also added locking canopies to protect escalators at night and reduce breakdowns. 

In Minneapolis, Metro Police Lieutenant (and former EMT and nurse) Mario Ruberto launched an initiative to hire specially trained transit police to recognize chronic health conditions like mental illness and addiction that lead to homelessness.  In addition to specialty training, the Minneapolis Metro Police was able to work with the housing authority to acquire 89 vouchers for subsidized housing to distribute to homeless transit passengers in crisis. 

In just two months, the Hub of Hope in Philadelphia was able to place 359 people in shelter, treatment, or subsidized housing, and hopes to continue its good work.  This Thanksgiving, remember those who are less fortunate, and consider supporting an organization that helps on Giving Tuesday.


Sources: Streets Blog USA