Metro Transit plans for more riders seeking shelter during bitter freeze

With the latest blast of artic air hitting Minnesota, everyone is bundling up to stay warm. But the subzero temperatures could cause more people to use light rail for more than just a ride.

"I have no doubts we are going to have people trying to find a warm safe place to go,” said Howie Padilla, Metro Transit spokesperson. “We're going to do our best to provide that as much as possible."

Padilla says anywhere from 200 to 350 people experiencing homelessness sleep on the trains every night. With Minnesota in the deep freeze, light rail operators won't leave them out in the cold. 

"We're not going to be taking them off into the frigid temps, having said that, we have the expectation that they are acting appropriately,” said Padilla. “Don't be disruptive to other riders. Don't be disruptive to our operatives. Absolutely, we want people to stay safe and warm."

Metro Transit says its Homeless Action Team will be out in full force to help riders using light rail as temporary shelter get any services they need. As long as they pay their fare, it is perfectly legal for them to spend the night riding the rails.

"To our other riders, we are going to say have a little compassion," said Padilla. 

Meanwhile, Minneapolis police say they are also reaching out to the homeless to convince them to go into shelters to avoid the bitter cold. Officers are also handing out hats and gloves to kids at bus stops who don't have proper winter clothing and wool blankets to anyone they come across who needs one.

"It’s our job to keep people safe and it’s not just crime,” said John Elder, Minneapolis police spokesman. “Sometimes it’s safety from the elements. Sometimes it’s their own choices and if that means wrapping a blanket around someone who needs it, that's what we want to do."

Elder says hats and gloves are stocked in every squad car. Officers have been giving out a couple of hundred a day for the last couple of days.