ATLANTA — During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer people using public transportation, MARTA saw a drastic increase in the number of unsheltered individuals seeking refuge on MARTA transportation.
As a way to not only ensure the safety of these individuals but also to provide helpful outreach resources, in Aug 2020, MARTA created a program called the MARTA Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement, also known as “MARTA HOPE.”
“What we saw was an integration of our unsheltered population really starting to take over the system to the point where we were running into individuals that had severe mental health issues and severe substance abuse issues,” Scott Kreher, MARTA’s Chief of Police and Emergency Management said.
They planned to decrease the need to involve MARTA police in non-criminal activity, so they partnered with various organizations including the Gateway Center, Partners for Home and the Regional Commission on Homelessness (RCOH) to create humane approaches to intervention that ensure the respect and dignity of these individuals.
“So MARTA has what's called the HOPE Team, which is a group of professionals, caseworkers that team up with what we call our Field Protective Specialists, which are non sworn, unarmed security forces. They go out and make these contacts with our unsheltered population to try and connect them with resources,” Kreher said.
Field Protective Specialists are trained in de-escalation tactics, crisis intervention, interpersonal communication and cultural diversity. If accepted, they will connect individuals to services based on their respective needs including shelter, clothing, drug and alcohol counseling, mental health treatment, supplemental benefit programs, job opportunities and family reunification, according to MARTA’s release.
Over the past two years, the program has seen great success.
According to MARTA, since its inception in Aug 2020, MARTA HOPE has engaged 4,452 people.
Out of 4,452 engagements, here is a breakdown highlighting key metrics:
- About 64% have refused help
- 382 have been connected to shelter (not necessarily permanent shelter)
- 1,353 have been referred to other programs to help them overcome homelessness
- 47 have been reunified with family members
In 2022 alone, the program has conducted 1,248 engagements.
Here is a monthly breakdown of the engagements, highlighting key metrics:
- January – 350 engagements/148 refusals: *31 clients sheltered; 106 service referrals; 2 family reunifications
- February – 510 engagements/339 refusals: *49 clients sheltered; 102 service referrals; 3 family reunifications
- March – 388 engagement/271 refusals: *20 clients sheltered; 97 service referrals; 3 family reunifications
MARTA HOPE program sees success over two years
To support MARTA HOPE, they encourage individuals to reach out through the See & Say app to anonymously inform them of any unsheltered individuals who may require assistance.