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Metro will keep removing homeless when trains get cleaned but will explore solutions

Metro will keep removing homeless when trains get cleaned but will explore solutions

LA Metro will not change its end-of-the-line policy that empties trains of all passengers when trains are taken out of service late at night — including homeless riders who then wander the streets. But it will consider adding service hubs at 13 rail line end points, according to a board motion approved on Thursday, Jan. 26.

The county’s transit agency must roll trains into maintenance yards for cleaning and repairs without passengers so trains can go back in service in the morning. For safety reasons, passengers cannot enter a maintenance yard, explained Conan Cheung, Metro’s chief operations officer.

But the policy that produces cleaner trains has resulted in unintended consequences in Long Beach, downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Norwalk and Azusa. The problem is amplified by a system that allows unhoused people to use trains and buses as mobile shelters without paying fares.

“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 reported.

Metro estimated that 800 individuals are sheltering at rail and bus rapid transit stations on any given night. Metro has cleared emergency corridors of encampments, staff reported.

The overarching problem of homeless individuals sleeping on the trains, combined with other safety concerns, has scared away potential riders, according to several recent Metro surveys and town halls. “It also threatens to undermine the willingness of residents to take public transit, even as the system rapidly expands via the largest transit construction program in the country,” according to staff report.

In a previous meeting, CEO Stephanie Wiggins called it a humanitarian crisis that is hurting ridership and affecting front line employees throughout the Metro system.

“Our custodial staff who clean the system, because of increased assaults, and an increase in unhoused sheltering, have put us in position where our custodians and service attendants are afraid to do their job without a security escort,” Wiggins said.

The problem is particularly intense each night after midnight when a train ends its daily run. The most acute case is the end of the A Line (formerly Blue) in downtown Long Beach at First Avenue and Pine Street.

At this spot, an average of 39 homeless riders exit the train every night. Between Dec. 7 and Dec. 10, and on Dec. 12 and Dec. 13, Metro counted a total of 234 people getting kicked off the four A Line trains. Of 44 homeless riders surveyed, 30 were unsheltered and 10 listed some form of shelter in the last several weeks, such as a motel room or a friend’s couch.

Since Metro learned about the problem in the fall, the board passed a motion to investigate and suggest solutions. Meanwhile, neighborhood residents and business owners got fed up with large groups of homeless on their streets, going to the bathroom on their lawns and in front of their restaurants.

As a result, they formed the East Village/Arts District Community Watch, a group of 100 members who patrol the streets and call in suspicious activity to Long Beach Police Department. “We want our streets back,” said Joe Harding, an organizer and resident.

Harding said the city has helped by providing a mobile outreach team. “We did have a meeting with Metro and it resulted in excuses and nothing was done,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

The group’s suggestions include reopening nearby locked bathrooms. Also, they’ve asked Metro to add a bus stop at the end of the train line which could hook up with a night service to Los Angeles, which is now located blocks away and is not used by the homeless passengers.

He said the problems not being addressed involve the chronic homeless who ride the train and exit, unable to access shelters because they are closed at night. They often have physical and mental illnesses. “The problem not being addressed is the mental health and drug addiction. So far there has been zero plan to deal with that behavior,” Harding said.

Some homeless in Long Beach, near restaurants and homes, become violent, he said. “They use needles (for drugs). They urinate on our buildings,” he said. He’s ridden the train to the terminus and he talked to a homeless woman who wanted to get back to Skid Row, where she had shelter, but couldn’t.

In a meeting of the Metro Executive Committee on Jan. 19, Fourth District Supervisor and Metro Board Member Janice Hahn suggested allowing the homeless passengers to stay on as the train looped back toward the yard, but then exit at the Willow Station in Long Beach.

She suggested Metro add an after-hours service hub at Willow Station and provide food, shelter and mental health services in a Metro parking lot. That is one of the ideas included in Thursday’s board motion. Other ideas listed included obtaining more motel vouchers from cities, and conduct an inventory of Metro property that can be used for homeless services.

The service hub idea comes from the transit agency in Philadelphia, which built a “Hub of Hope” at the end of one of their lines with showers, case managers and counseling services, the Metro staff reported. But funding will be an issue, Metro reported.

Orsa Modica, owner of Modica’s Restaurant and Deli at 455 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach, located not far from the train terminus, said the board’s motion and general tone at Thursday’s meeting was a sharp turnaround from last October. She also credited the city and the new crime watch group.

“We are starting to see an improvement in the downtown, in our area,” she said.

Metro, through its partner People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), has eight multi-disciplinary teams who specialize in mental health and addiction. Sometime next month, Metro hopes to expand that to 16 teams.

Metro completed homeless counts at the end of the L Line (formerly Gold) at the Azusa Pacific University/Citrus Avenue station in Azusa and at the western terminus of the E Line (former Expo) in Santa Monica. But those results were not released.

“My residents tell me there has been dozens (of homeless),” said Azusa Mayor Robert Gonzales in an interview on Thursday. “The residents there say they are boisterous and camp right there at the Promenade,” an area including the station and some retail within the planned community of Rosedale.

The Metro board will hear a progress report in April.