Metro Transit looking for homeless rider solution as winter approaches

- With winter fast approaching, Metro Transit is trying to find a solution to an issue that's become more of a problem in recent years.

Homeless people have been sleeping on light rail trains. However, it’s not as simple as removing them booting them off the trains.

"Praise metro transit for letting them do that. I do actually think that's awesome at a time when it’s not busy,” Kris Wicklund, a light rail rider said.

Every day, a quarter of a million Minnesotans use Metro Transit to get where they are going, but for some light rail is more than just a way to go from point A to point B.

"It really annoys me at rush hour when I'm trying to get on the train in the morning and people are sprawled all over. They don't smell good. They are taking up multiple seats. If you try to ask them to move, they grunt at you or curse you. I don't like that,” said Wicklund. 

Metro Transit says on any given day, about 200 homeless people sleep on the blue and green line trains and during the winter that number can swell to more than 350.

However, the number of consumer complaints about them has risen as well.

Metro Transit says there were about 1,200 three years ago and that number could triple by the end of this year.

"What we've been told is they are safe areas,” Howie Padilla, a Metro Transit spokesman said. “Not only that, we all know the chill is in the air. It’s a warming house. It can serve as a warming house in some ways."

About a month ago, Metro Transit launched a Homeless Action Team with six officers who reach out to passengers using light rail as shelter to make sure no crimes are being committed and help those passengers get any services they need.

The agency is also working with the Wilder Foundation to do a count of homeless riders to get a better understanding of the entire issue.

"We know we are not going to arrest ourselves out of homelessness. We know we are not going to solve it ourselves, but we also know we can be part of the solution,” Padilla said.

Some regular light rail passengers say those efforts are on the right track.

"I think it’s great if they can help those people. Not just going to be shooing them off. Help find an alternative for them,” Michael Schepers, another light rail rider said.

Metro Transit says it’s not illegal to sleep on trains and buses as long as they pay their fare.

This isn't just a problem here in Minnesota as similar issues can be found across the country.

CONSUMER COMPLAINTS ABOUT HOMELESS SLEEPING ON TRAINS

2015 - 1,273

2016 - 1,559

2017 - 2,442

2018 - 3,456 (projected)

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