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Metro’s homeless teams ‘surprised’ by level of need on Red Line

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“The need is quite extensive”

Homeless encampment with bus in background
Metro’s board of directors may expand the agency’s homeless outreach program.
David McNew | Getty Images

Outreach workers assisting the homeless on LA trains face a more formidable task than expected, according to a report presented to Metro’s Board of Directors Thursday.

“The need is quite extensive, and we’ve been surprised by that,” says Jennifer Loew, transit security special projects manager for Metro.

In 2016, the board approved $1.2 million in funding for outreach teams trained to provide services to the homeless and to connect residents with opportunities for housing. The plan at the time was for teams to ride the Red, Gold, and Green lines.

But Loew told the board Thursday that teams have been working along the Red Line exclusively because need for services there is “saturated,” leaving the program without the resources to expand to other routes.

According to the report, outreach teams with the C3 program—an initiative led by the Department of Health Services and first launched in Skid Row—serve about 134 residents per month, connecting nearly 60 with permanent or temporary housing providers. Since May of 2017, that’s led to 19 people finding permanent housing.

Board chair Eric Garcetti said he was impressed with those numbers, even if they might not seem high at first glance. With money now flowing into county coffers through the Measure H sales tax initiative, Garcetti said the number of outreach workers employed by local agencies would soon quadruple.

With countywide rates of homelessness on the rise, Garcetti said it was “critical” to get outreach teams on buses and other train lines.

The board asked agency staff Thursday to consider expanding the program to broaden the reach of outreach teams and serve more residents.

“Knowing that the model works, we need to go way beyond that,” said boardmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion, which also calls for the pilot program to be made permanent.

“We don’t have a moment to waste,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Also at issue are homeless encampments in and around stations.

According to Loew, Metro is seeking to balance the property rights of the homeless against a desire to keep stations clean for riders. She told the board that the agency is working with legal counsel on a homeless encampment policy and enforcement protocol.

Metro has also enlisted the help of LAPD’s HOPE program, which pairs police officers with outreach workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. According to the report, HOPE teams have made 129 contacts with homeless residents since the program began; 48 of those interactions resulted in referrals to service providers.