Homelessness & Public Transportation: What many Public Transit Agencies are doing to Provide Assistance for those Experiencing Homelessness

Public transportation is an excellent way for people to commute from point a to point b. It has many benefits, such as reducing air pollutants, single-occupancy vehicle usage, and traffic congestion to a minimum during rush hour. 

When the lockdown started in March 2020, ridership dropped significantly in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. As a result, this gives individuals experiencing homelessness an opportunity to use transit stations and vehicles such as buses and trains to find shelter and move from place to place. Many people, who are homeless, use public transit to travel to their workplaces, public shelters, and community service centers. 

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a lead researcher for the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, discusses, “We know that public transit is an important major mode for people who are experiencing homelessness, and we know they take shelter in a transit environment.”

The California Transit Association states that the pandemic has exacerbated finding shelter in transit environments. 85% of the interviewed transit agencies developed new policies that focus on addressing the homelessness crisis.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, various public transit agencies across the United States have developed essential partnerships with law enforcement, social service agencies, mental health experts, advocates for people who are homeless, and others to effectively deal with the current homelessness crisis.

Over on the east coast of the United States, Philadelphia provides a successful example of a relationship between transit agencies and individuals experiencing homelessness. The Hub of Hope is a partnership between Phildephia’s transit agency SEPTA and Project HOME, a social service agency that is similar to The HomeMore Project in San Francisco. 

LA Metro’s Operation Shelter the Unsheltered is one of the first actions an agency has taken at the start of the pandemic. To offered crucial assistance for their transit riders during the lockdown, the agency started providing bus transportation to persons who are homeless and vulnerable. These individuals may also require a social service evaluation, shelter, or mental health assistance.

From April to May of 2020, LA Metro has confirmed that more than 290 homeless individuals participated in the program for necessities such as food and shelter within its first month of operation. The agency believes that the increase from its standard outreach was attributed to the rise of new beds at recreation centers across the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.

The increase of available beds is also due to the agency’s close collaboration with the city of Los Angeles’s Unified Homeless Response Center. In 2019, LA mayor, Eric Garcetti, established a task force as a real-time central command post to provide assistance and research the city’s homeless crisis.

The LA Metro send its staff to the resource center to help track bed availability, and the agency’s task force “People Assisting the Homeless” (PATH) outreach team members who have also formed a joint partnership with transit security, fare inspectors, and specialized law enforcement units at key terminus stations around LA County. One of their missions is to offer these individuals the option to stay at a nearby shelter for additional care, by providing access to healthcare and expedited housing services.

Another example is in the San Francisco Bay Area with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) approach to tackling the current homelessness crisis. In the past, VTA’s Line 22 offered an overnight service for individuals experiencing homelessness seeking shelter called “Hotel 22” that runs from the Palo Alto Transit Station to the Eastridge Transit Center located in San Jose. 

BART budgeted $16 million in the fiscal year of 2020 to improve quality of life, including cleaning, safety, and fare evasion prevention. Of the total budget, $2.6 million will be dedicated to homelessness, including paying a community outreach coordinator, homeless outreach teams, elevator attendants, and presenting and cleaning encampments. 

At the end of 2020, the agency announced that it created a new position to implement its Strategic Homelessness Action Plan. The top six action items BART hopes to accomplish in their action plan is to engage and advocate with all levels of government regularly; develop public/private partnerships, create a statewide transit advocacy coalition; integrate its progressive policy; develop performance measure, by collecting and analyzing data; and continue to incorporate the best practices that would aid those facing homelessness.

The issue that many public transit agencies face regarding homelessness cannot be ignored anymore. While there is work still needed to be done, these agencies have made tremendous progress in finding solutions to help alleviate the trouble for those facing homelessness daily. 


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