Winter’s bone-chilling temperatures are now gripping most of the country. When the frigid weather makes it too hazardous to stay outside, many homeless seek shelter in train stations, bus depots and other public facilities.
In Philadelphia in recent years, every day anywhere from 100 to 300 homeless men and women would take refuge in the downtown concourses that connect to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's (SEPTA) regional (commuter) rail, subway and trolley lines. That number would fluctuate seasonally, increasing as temperatures dipped. However over the past two years, SEPTA has seen a decline in the number of homeless looking to stay in its stations.
“Our most recent quarterly census of the homeless population in the Center City concourses overnight was 75,” said SEPTA Police Inspector Steven Harold. “Previously we had 200 people in our Suburban Station area alone.”
Harold credits the decrease in a consistent application of SEPTA’s business model (“when the stations are closed, our patrolling officers ensure the concourses are also closed") and an affiliation between SEPTA and Project HOME, a Philadelphia–based organization that works to end homelessness through outreach, education and other intervention programs.
“Project HOME operates the ‘Hub of Hope’ in our Suburban Station from January through April, when the cold weather is the most intense,” said Harold. “This facility is staffed by professionals that can help the individuals in need find shelter, medical care and other social services. This SEPTA/Project HOME partnership with the Hub of Hope is the first of its kind between a transit agency and a social service organization.”
The Hub of Hope was established in 2012 to offer a variety of services and housing, especially for those experiencing long-term street homelessness. The center is staffed with resource managers, peer specialists, recovery coaches, and physical and behavioral healthcare professionals from numerous Philadelphia-based agencies, including Project HOME, the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia, Jefferson Hospital and Public Health Management Corp. In 2013, 157 individuals who visited the Hub of Hope were placed into shelter, treatment and other housing options throughout Philadelphia.
“SEPTA has been an invaluable partner to the Hub of Hope and Project HOME,” said Karen Orrick, project coordinator for Hub of Hope and Strategic Initiatives for Project HOME. “Each year, the SEPTA Police Department can identify for us the individuals who have long histories in the station so that Project HOME can target our outreach efforts to these individuals.”
“Our officers ask the homeless in our stations and concourses if they want or need assistance,” said Harold. “The officers can contact Project HOME and have their outreach staff work with the individuals in need or can take them directly to the Hub of Hope.”
Working as a team, the SEPTA Police Department and Project HOME resource managers can offer options for places individuals can go and services they can receive to obtain permanent housing.
“Both organizations act as eyes and ears for one another with regard to safety and well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness in the station,” said Orrick.
Since the SEPTA/Project HOME relationship began, SEPTA has seen its Center City Philadelphia homeless population reduced by 50%.
“Being homeless is not a crime,” said Harold. “Working with the Hub of Hope, Project HOME and the other social services organizations, we’ve been able to help get people the medical treatments and support they need to get off the streets, rather than to simply push them out of the stations.”
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