How Metro Transit's Homeless Action Team connects with unsheltered light rail riders

On a night when being inside and staying warm can mean the difference between life and death, Sgt. Brooke Blakey is trying to keep the homeless on track. 

As the Green Line reaches the end of the line at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, Sgt. Blakey makes her way throughout the train. 

"What we are doing right now is this train is going out of service, so what we do is wake people who've been sleeping on the train, make sure they are OK,” said Sgt. Blakey. "Then, advising them there's a train on the other side."

This scenario will play out about a half dozen times over the course of the night as members of Metro Transit's Homeless Action Team (HAT) reach out to riders who use the train as a moving warming house. It’s estimated anywhere from 200 to 350 people use the trains each night as shelter.

"There are no open beds tonight, so I tell them to check back at 2 o'clock because there might be no-shows or something, people might leave and we'll try to get them in the shelter," said Sgt. Blakey.

One man says he's been riding the rails all night for the last three months.

"That's what they told me to do,” he said. “They said if there ain't no room, ride the train or go to the hospital … I do what I gotta do. It ain't the worst thing that could happen, but... it ain't supposed to happen."

But, sleeping on a train isn't always the best place to rest easy.

"I’ve had my phone taken from me – everything,” said one woman riding the train. “It’s a chance that you are taking, but I'm a woman I don't want to walk the streets."

Luckily on this night, a couple of beds opened up at Winter Safe Space, a nearby emergency shelter, so a pair of light rail riders could come in from the cold.

"It's good,” said Sgt. Blakey.  “I know I'm out here and I'm freezing and I'm going to get in a warm vehicle and go home to a warm bed... knowing they are in here and they are gracious that we are willing to help."

But for Sgt. Blakey, it's back to the beat to do it all over again.

"It’s not necessarily a law enforcement issue, but we are their first point of contact and a little bit of humanity goes a long way," said Sgt. Blakey.

HAT started in September to help those who use the trains as shelter to get the help they need. HAT also gives out items like water, hats and care packages. With temperatures dipping below zero, the group's presence is all the more important to help those seeking shelter.