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Metro to Explore Hubs for Homeless Passengers When Trains Are Emptied

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By Jorge Casuso

January 30, 2023 -- Homeless passengers removed from LA Metro rail trains when they stop running late at night may soon have an alternative to spending the night at the station or on the streets.

LA Metro is assessing a plan to place service hubs near 13 end-of-the-line rail stations -- including in Downtown Santa Monica -- that would help connect the homeless passengers to services.

Given an initial go-ahead at Thursday night's Metro Board meeting, the program could reduce the number of homeless persons who disappear into Downtown alleys and parking structures after trains are taken out of service.

"This is something that will greatly benefit Santa Monica as one of the end of the lines," said Metro Board member James T. Butts, Jr., the Mayor of Inglewood and a former Santa Monica Police Chief.

Under the motion approved Thursday, Metro "will assess the ability to provide a full service homeless outreach plan" for all end-of-the-line stations.

Metro will identify "in-house and outside key partnerships," including local cities and community based organizations "to assist the unhoused riders with the services needed at the end of service hours."

The trains that are taken out of service must be emptied before they are rolled into maintenance yards to be cleaned and repaired, staff said.

On any given night, there were 800 individuals sheltering at rail and bus rapid transit stations, according to a point-in-time count conducted by Metro in March 2022.

Metro allows homeless individuals to ride trains and buses for free, turning them into mobile shelters that stop running late at night.

"While transit vehicles and stations are not designed to be used as a shelter or viewed as an encampment, the system provides refuge from the cold weather during the winter and the heat in the summer," Metro staff wrote in a report to the Board.

"Metro’s primary role is that of a transit operator, not a homeless service provider, yet the magnitude of the crisis requires all hands on deck."

Metro customers have identified homelessness as "a top priority area for improvement," according to surveys, public meetings, social media and customer care, according to staff.

In a 2018 brand survey, 64 percent of respondents "felt that there were too many homeless people on the system."

"Metro riders told us that homelessness has a major impact on the customer experience", and "some residents avoid Metro entirely due to widespread homelessness on the system," staff wrote.

"Metro also recognizes the urgency of curtailing behaviors and conditions that adversely affect the health and safety of other customers and employees."

Over the past five years, Metro has allocated more than $28 million on multidisciplinary outreach teams contracted through the County, and it plans to double the number of teams, which have five members each, from eight to 16, staff said.

The teams are deployed from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.

"Despite the significant efforts, the scale of homelessness on the system far exceeds Metro’s ability," staff wrote.

The Board will be given a progress report in April.

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