Nearly 400 people have found permanent housing in the two years since the Metro Transit Police Department and the Metropolitan Council's Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) partnered to help those sheltering on transit. The first move-in facilitated by the partnership occurred on Feb. 6, 2019.
"The partnership between MTPD and HRA has been nothing but amazing,’’ said Capt. Brooke Blakey, who was instrumental in creating the department’s Homeless Action Team (HAT) in early 2018.
HAT is a dedicated group of officers and staff who spend their nights on light rail vehicles building trust by providing food, clothing and other assistance. The team also has special vans to transport people to temporary shelters and do initial health screenings.
The partnership with the HRA has allowed HAT members to refer some of the people they encounter to the HRA's federally funded rental assistance program (the vouchers are being directed to adults ages 18 to 61 who have a disability and have previously engaged with Metro Transit police or other service provider).
After a referral, HRA coordinators help individuals find housing and adjust to their new living situation by providing advice on paying bills, housekeeping, and setting boundaries.
Between February 2019 and February 2021, the HAT team referred 161 households to the HRA, collectively moving nearly 400 people into safe housing.
While homelessness is a common issue in the transit industry, the coordination between police, the HRA, local and state agencies and service providers is considered rare, nationally.
“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.
In September 2020, the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and seven chamber partners recognized the shared effort to move people into safe housing with a Local Government Award. The organizations credited transit police and HRA staff for continuing to check on past referrals while expanding their reach, and said: "Once you are able to change the trajectory for one person in a family, others start to see that change is possible.”
The HAT team currently includes officers Sgt. Tim Lawrence, Capt. Brooke Blakey, officers Katherine Kompelien, Beverly Rodriguez, Daniel Schmit and Quentin Waterkamp, and civilians Carol LaFleur and Alexis Myers.
Learn more about the Council's efforts to expand affordable housing