When COVID-19 hit in late March, many Greater Cleveland shelters, churches, and libraries that the homeless visit began closing, leaving the homeless with no place to go. As a result, many of the homeless began using Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) buses, trains, and stations as their place of shelter. This created difficulties for RTA in its mandate to provide only essential trips and to do so in a manner that complies with state and federal guidelines, promoting and protecting the health of its riders and operators.
To address this problem, RTA formed a collaboration with social service agencies including FrontLine Service and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH). The goal was not only to help relocate those in need, but to also assist them in accessing services to meet the needs of those with mental health concerns and the homeless during the pandemic. NEOCH is a non-profit coalition of service providers that works to find solutions for the homeless. FrontLine Service also provides a comprehensive continuum of care for the homeless.
“Such collaborative efforts are ensuring that the homeless are not just finding shelter, but they are being connected to the social services necessary for their physical and mental well-being,” said Dr. Floun’say Caver, COO of the RTA.
Within a two-week period, Transit Police, along with the help of bus and/or rail operators, identified the rapid transit stations, which were experiencing the highest volume of homeless and the approximate time of their presence on the system. This resulted in NEOCH sending outreach workers to those locations and successfully interacting with and providing services to address their needs and assist in relocating these individuals.
RTA’s operators and Transit Police working collaboratively with local social service agencies has proven to be effective not only in reducing risks associated with COVID-19, but also in helping the homeless to obtain assistance that in many cases has proven to be life-saving.
“I’m proud of the efforts of Transit Police and the social service agencies working together to create a solution during the pandemic. Importantly, it seems we’ve found a successful strategy that we can also implement in the months and years ahead,” Caver said.