According to Armando Sandoval, BART’s homeless outreach worker and crisis intervention trainer, there are three categories of homeless people on BART: willing to accept help, those who refuse it and those whose mental state leaves them unable to decide either way. As homelessness rises in some parts of the Bay Area, Santa Clara and Alameda counties in particular, BART has been experiencing an influx of people using the system as a shelter. When BART shuts down for the night, some homeless people end up at the San Francisco International Airport and the airport has provided tokens for years to anyone stranded at the end of the BART line. However, for the past couple of months, airport officials have been noticing an uptick in the number of homeless people with nowhere left to go when BART closes for the night. Elaine de Coligny, the executive director of EveryOne Home, the nonprofit that conducts the count for the county, stated:
What people see, we think is true, and the data does appear to back it up. The explosion in the housing crisis is pushing more people into homelessness.
It’s unclear whether there are more homeless people left at other end-of-the-line stations on BART because no one tracks that data. A group of San Francisco police officers usually hand those without plane tickets at the BART station at SFO a bus token to ride SamTrans, which is operated by the San Mateo bus agency and provides overnight lines heading both north and south. According to the 2017 point-in-time counts released recently by each county, Alameda County saw the largest increase in the number of homeless people living in shelters or outside at 39 percent. Over the years, BART has attempted a number of strategies to address homelessness on its system, including using prohibition orders in mid-2013 and enforcing a little-known law prohibiting people from blocking hallways on transit systems in 2014. BART has been making efforts to improve its image and make downtown stations cleaner due to the influx of homeless people, but it can’t do it alone. The issues that BART is facing are far larger than it can handle and there needs to be more done in the region to help the homeless population in the Bay Area.