Phoenix Will Add Homeless Outreach to Light Rail

If you’ve ridden the light rail literally ever, you’ve probably noticed that homeless people make up a large share of Valley Metro’s riders.

Fairly or unfairly, this has led some people to steer clear of the light rail altogether, and a spate of articles with headlines like "North Phoenix residents blame light rail for uptick in crime."

On Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council voted to spend $125,000 to contract with Community Bridges, Inc., and hire two staff members whose full-time job will be homeless outreach on the light rail.

They'll be riding trains and hanging out on the platforms, offering to connect homeless people with housing and health care resources.

In order to free up money to pay for the program, the city will be stationing fewer private security guards at park-and-ride stations during the middle of the day.

The proposal passed unanimously, though Councilmember Sal DiCiccio was not present and did not vote.

Citizen activist Leonard Clark was the only member of the public to speak on the plan.

"I just want to make sure there's no police on this team," he told the council. "I'm worried that this team is going to go on there and seek out people that look poor or that look homeless, and that's going to be considered a a crime and they're going to call the police on them."

"The point of the outreach team is that it is not the police," city manager Ed Zuercher responded. "Right now, we don't have anything besides the police, and the outreach team gives us professionals who know how to connect people with services."

One major question remains: Will an outreach team that consists of just two people be sufficient?

"The light rail runs from Monday to Sunday, so how are those 40 hours going to be met with only two people?" Vice Mayor Laura Pastor pointed out at a meeting of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee that took place earlier this month.

That subcommittee ultimately voted to implement a one-year pilot program, and reassess the situation after that.

Complaints about the light rail have also led to increased police enforcement. In June, the city council voted to double the number of officers who focus on the light rail, specifically along the 19th Avenue corridor.

And in October, Valley Metro introduced a code of conduct which requires all riders to exit the train and leave the platform when they reach the end of the line, theoretically preventing homeless people from riding the train back and forth all day.