Families who seek shelter on light rail vehicles are getting help finding affordable housing – and the support they need to transition to their new living arrangements.
The Metropolitan Council’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) has helped around 70 families find or begin searching for apartments since the beginning of the year. The families have largely been referred by Metro Transit police officers who work overnight on the METRO Green and Blue lines.
Families referred to the Council can have their rent partially covered through a federal housing program. While that aid is limited, there are hopes more resources will become available in the future.
For many families, though, rental assistance is just a part of the equation.
To smooth the transition, Council staff direct people to organizations that provide counseling, legal aid, furniture and groceries, among other services. A social worker from St. Paul-based Radias Health is working exclusively with individuals who sought shelter on transit.
Families also receive advice on paying bills, housekeeping, setting boundaries and getting around their new surroundings using transit.
When a family with young children moved into a new apartment, Metro HRA senior outreach coordinator Ryane Leifheit put up a bulletin board with reminders about routine tasks.
“Many of these transit riders haven’t had a home in years,” she said. “Staying in housing is a whole other battle.”
The assistance is part of a larger and ongoing effort to help individuals who seek shelter on transit find alternatives.
Officers with the Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team are often the first point of contact. The team includes six police officers who spend their nights on light rail vehicles building trust, bringing people to temporary shelters and providing other aid.
Two Community Service Officers have been added to the team and a van used to transport individuals in need was recently retrofitted so officers can use it to provide medical attention and other assistance.
Police are also hoping to have more temporary shelter spaces reserved for individuals who seek shelter on transit.
While homelessness is a common issue in the transit industry, the coordination between police, the HRA, local and state agencies and service providers is rare, according to one national expert.
“I think you’re on the cutting edge of this, working to get the homeless some help so they don’t keep coming back,” said Dan Boyle a San Diego, Calif.-based transit consultant who has studied the response to homelessness by agencies across the country.
Lt. Mario Ruberto, a key figure in the police department’s efforts, said the stage was set by Metro HRA Director Terri Smith.
“She said, ‘Here’s what we’re up against.’ You find out other people have finished this component. It’s breaking down barriers so we’re all coming together,” he said.
While there are challenges, Leifheit, the outreach coordinator, is optimistic the work she and others are doing will make an impact. “There’s a place for everybody,” she said. “There’s no one who can’t be helped.”
-- Story and photo by Laura Baenen