Los Angeles County Metro’s board of directors is pushing for increased homeless outreach services along its train lines, as some cities like Long Beach have blamed one of the agency’s policies for their recent rise in homelessness.
Metro has a longstanding “end-of-the-line” policy in which the agency forces passengers to exit at the final stop when trains stop running every night. In Long Beach, that means passengers are required to exit the A Line in Downtown in the early morning hours.
The board voted unanimously Thursday to look at solutions that could include assigning outreach workers to all 13 “end-of-the-line” stations that include cities like Azusa, Norwalk, Redondo Beach and Long Beach.
Metro could also look at its surplus land for potential spaces for interim housing, and could use existing stations throughout its network to create hubs where people experiencing homelessness could meet with outreach workers and receive services. The agency is looking at the Willow Station in Long Beach to potentially be one of those hubs.
“Why not allow this Willow Station to be this ‘Hub of Hope’ that we saw in Philadelphia,” said LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who sits on the Metro board.
Hahn was referring to a Metro staff report that looked at models other transportation agencies have used to try and address homelessness on their networks. Philadelphia operates a hub on one of its SEPTA system’s platforms, where it offers year-round support to those experiencing homelessness.
It offers things like meals, showers, case management and transportation to area shelters. The hub also provides group meetings and therapy sessions.
Jennifer Rice Epstein, a spokesperson for Long Beach’s Health Department, said that the city is working closely with Metro on solutions, but said “plans are not yet confirmed” regarding a hub being established at the Willow Station parking lot.
Multiple board members called for partnering with other agencies in the county and expanding hours of operation for homeless outreach workers and shelters.
“While we know that there are people who have the luxury of a 9-5 job, when you’re dealing with a crisis, it doesn’t hit between then,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who sits on the board.
Long Beach thrust the “end-of-the-line” policy into the news when its City Council called on Metro in October to reevaluate its practices, claiming that it had led to an increase in its homeless population and safety concerns among Downtown residents and businesses.
Metro requires all riders to exit its trains when the trains are being taken out of service for the day so they can be safely returned to its maintenance yard for cleaning and other fixes.
For the Downtown Long Beach platform on First Street, that means passengers are forced off around 1 a.m. every morning, with few options for housing and a single bus route that can take them back to Los Angeles.
After Long Beach’s request, Metro conducted a survey of the Downtown station with the help of its nonprofit partner, People Assisting the Homeless, which counted the number of people experiencing homelessness exiting the train and waiting for the first train (at 4 a.m.) over a six-day period.
The survey found that an average of 39 people experiencing homelessness per night exited the train at the Downtown Long Beach platform and another 45 per day waited in the early morning hours for the first train.
Only 44 people consented to the survey Metro conducted, and it found that just nine of them last lived in Long Beach. The rest of the people interviewed said they were from Los Angeles, other area cities or from out of state.
Of those surveyed, Metro staff said that 29 said they were ready to accept help and 22 had been homeless for more than a year.
While the vote was unanimous, several board members said they were concerned about putting services at the end of the line, with board member Paul Krekorian likening the suggestion to the idea of adding lanes to freeways, which typically results in just another lane of traffic.
“As we add end-of-line resources, those resources will be instantly filled,” Krekorian said, adding that resources should be distributed throughout the system.
Board member Holly Mitchell also opposed centralized areas, saying that adding services in certain parts of the system could result in different problems for those cities.
“I don’t want to centralize services,” Mitchell said. “We know what that looks like. That’s called Skid Row.”
Included in the vote are smaller fixes intended to help in the interim. The staff report said the agency would change signage to make it more clear that trains and stations are closed for the night and would look to move the bus stop for the 60 OWL, the bus that transports people between Downtown Long Beach to LA, closer to the train platform at the corner of First Street and Pacific Avenue.
Long Beach’s homeless population grew by 62% from 2020 to 2022, and the city conducted its 2023 count Thursday morning.