Homelessness in Transit Environments

Research Team: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (lead), Jacob Wasserman, Ryan Caro, and Hao Ding

University: UCLA

Problem Statement: More than 150,000 people in California experience homelessness every day. Without other options, many turn to transit vehicles, stops, and stations for shelter. Many homeless persons also use transit to travel to their workplaces and public shelters and community service centers. Because of the health and safety implications for transit in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anticipated further rise in homelessness from the resulting economic downturn, it is now more critical than ever to respond to the needs of these vulnerable travelers.

Project Description: This project investigated the intersections of the pandemic, transit, and homelessness; the scale of homelessness on transit; and how transit agencies are responding to the problem. Volume I presents the results of a survey of 115 transit operators on issues of homelessness on their systems. The survey finds that homelessness is broadly present across transit systems, though concentrated on larger operators and central hotspots, and has reportedly worsened on transit during the pandemic. The perceived challenges of homelessness are deepening, and data, dedicated funding, and staff are rare. However, a number of responses, including external partnerships and outreach and service provision, are growing, and agencies are adapting quickly to the pandemic. Volume II describes the extent of homelessness on transit in several areas by using count data and synthesizing prior research. The research finds that transit serves as shelter for a high, though quite variable, share of unsheltered individuals, who are more likely than their unhoused peers elsewhere to be chronically unhoused and structurally disadvantaged. Volume II also provides detailed case studies of strategies taken by transit agencies around the country: hub of services, mobile outreach, discounted fares, and transportation to shelters.

Status: Completed

Budget: $100,000

Project Partner(s): California Transit Association

Report(s):
Report 1: Homelessness in Transit Environments Volume I: Findings from a Survey of Public Transit OperatorsReport 2: Homelessness in Transit Environments Volume II: Transit Agency Strategies and Responses

Policy Brief(s):
Policy Brief 1: Homelessness in Transit Environments: Survey FindingsPolicy Brief 2: The Extent of Homelessness on Transit: What We KnowPolicy Brief 3: Transit Agency Responses to Homelessness