As you may know, I like to use this column to draw attention to transportation-related issues that are important to me, such as climate change, accessibility, and innovation. I also like to use this platform to highlight crucial social problems such as sexual harassment. More recently, one of our blogs focused on another dehumanizing societal problem that, unfortunately, is growing — homelessness.
In southern California, where I live, homelessness is at a crisis level. More than 53,000 people in Los Angeles County alone are homeless, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Whether it’s an elderly, grizzled-looking man sitting outside my local grocery store or Target, or a female veteran perched on a freeway offramp holding a sign while fending off the blazing afternoon sun, these people are holding on to their last scrap of dignity while they wait for someone to roll down their car window to hand them a few bills. Some homeless people are “lucky” enough to find room at a shelter, while others that are “unsheltered” turn to living wherever they can, including under freeways and alongside flood controls. Still others turn to buses and trains and stations for refuge.
‘Hub of Hope’
In her April blog, Heather Redfern, public information manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) wrote about the agency’s efforts to help the homeless community. SEPTA partnered with local homeless services nonprofit, Project HOME, and the City of Philadelphia, to establish a first-of-its-kind engagement center for the homeless. The new 11,000-square-foot “Hub of Hope,” as it is called, located in the downtown Philadelphia transit sub-concourse, opened its doors on Jan. 30. The Hub includes shower and laundry facilities, and staffers working to place individuals experiencing homelessness into shelter, treatment, or other long-term housing opportunities with supportive services.
Last year, the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority (Metro) launched a program in which outreach teams offered services and housing information to Los Angeles County’s homeless population throughout the Metro system. The effort involved deploying two teams made up of nurses, mental health clinicians, substance abuse counselors, and former homeless individuals, to reach out to homeless individuals in Metro stations, buses, and trains to direct them to homeless services. As of March 2018, “the outreach teams interacted with approximately 1,500 individuals, with 19 placed in permanent housing and connected 445 others with programs that work to provide temporary or permanent housing,” according to a Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) report.
Restore dignity, rekindle optimism
A more progressive approach to helping the homeless is being provided by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Lava Mae, which got its start in 2013 by converting decommissioned Muni transit buses into “showers and toilets on wheels.” How is this helping the problem? The organization’s mission statement says it all: “Delivering an unexpected level of care to people moving through homelessness restores dignity, rekindles optimism, and fuels a sense of opportunity.”
I applaud these efforts to help people with no place to call home and urge others to take similar action by working with their local governments to develop homeless programs. Perhaps donate transit passes or develop a special shuttle program to transport people to designated shelters and homeless services. Whatever you do, do something.
Janna Starcic is the executive editor of METRO Magazine.