Metro Transit helping homeless riders afford housing

In another step towards getting homeless people off of light rail trains in the Twin Cities and into more stable housing, Metro Transit is now giving out vouchers to help those people with rent.

Metro Transit says it is the second largest homeless shelter in the Twin Cities, but there's an effort to change that as the cold weather sets in.

“It's warm,” said Sgt. Brooke Blakey, of the Metro Transit Homeless Action Team. “It’s dry and its safe."

Blakey reaches out to the homeless who sleep on the light rail overnight, but now she has a new tool to help get them off the trains and into a more permanent place of their own.

"As temperature drops and snow begins to fall you begin to see an influx,” Blakey said. “One of the things we are starting to see a lot more of is families."

The Met Council was awarded 89 section 8 vouchers from the federal government to serve disabled homeless people who use transit for temporary shelter.

The vouchers will be handed out by the Metro Transit homeless action team and subsidize 70 percent of the cost for a homeless passenger to rent a house or apartment.

"I think the bottom line becomes we're all better off when everyone has access to safe stable and affordable housing and this is an effort to make that happen with this population,” Blakey added.

Metro Transit says about 200 homeless riders sleep on the light rail system every night and during the winter, that number can swell to as high as 350 a night.

So the Met Council says the sooner they can get the vouchers into the hands of those who need them, the better.

"We also know it’s only 89 vouchers. It’s only part of a solution,” Blakey said. “There will need to be solutions brought to the table to find permanent solutions for the rest of the individuals, but it’s certainly critical we get these vouchers on the street as quickly as we can.”

Blakey said, though there aren't enough vouchers to help everyone who sleeps on the trains, at least it’s a start.

"It definitely helps and it's definitely needed and it's not going anywhere anytime soon,” she said.

Metro Transit says it is not illegal for someone to sleep on the train as long as they buy a fare, but trains are not set up to be homeless shelters, so it’s better to help homeless riders find more permanent homes.