Episode 63: Homelessness and Public Transportation

A plenary conversation from Rail~Volution 2022 in Miami, with Stephanie Wiggins, CEO of LA Metro;  Leslie Richards, General Manager and CEO of SEPTA in Philadelphia; Diana Stanley, CEO of The Lord’s Place, a homeless services provider in South Florida. Our moderator is Daniel Gibson, Regional Vice President, Miami-Dade, for Allegany Franciscan Ministries.

Person waits for the bus next to a transit shelter in LA being used as shelter by a homeless person. Credit LA Metro, Stephanie Wiggins
Person waits for the bus next to a transit shelter in LA being used as shelter by a homeless person. Credit LA Metro, Stephanie Wiggins

Unedited transcript Episode 63: Homelessness and Public Transportation

Homelessness on public transit – people taking shelter at bus stops, in stations, on buses and trains – has been a challenge for years but was intensified by the pandemic. This podcast brings together transit agency CEOs with a homeless service provider, in a conversation moderated by a long time social justice advocate now working in philanthropy.

The speakers – from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and South Florida – describe the specific approaches they’ve taken to address homelessness in a collaborative way and through policy change. The conversation comes at a time when transit agencies are working hard to build back ridership and adjust service for changing travel patterns. The speakers all affirm that the primary focus of a transit agency is to provide safe and reliable service. But, to do that well also requires partnering with the county, the city and a whole range of stakeholders. Listen for a robust conversation about how transit agencies are forging partnerships – and the barriers to overcome. 

The issue isn’t that people are homeless on our system, it’s that they’re sheltering on our system.” – Stephanie Wiggins, CEO, LA Metro

Since 2017, LA Metro has been investing its own dollars to pay for homeless outreach support services. In addition, the agency is encouraging and incentivizing the construction of affordable housing on agency-owned land. So far they have permitted over 3000 affordable housing units. LA Metro also has a project labor agreement calling for for contractors to hire disadvantaged workers, including those who are formerly homeless.

“SEPTA covers a five county area. So one of the big challenges is that each county has different services. And everyone is different.” – Leslie Richards, CEO, SEPTA

To address homelessness on the system in an intersectional way, SEPTA developed the SCOPE program, which stands for Safety, Cleaning, Ownership, Partnerships and Engagement. The program, which won a National Innovation Award from APTA, draws on input from social services organizations, academic institutions, advocacy and nonprofit organizations, law enforcement and others. It seeks (quoting the video about the program) “to bring a holistic, compassionate approach to providing a welcoming travel experience for returning customers, ensuring a secure environment for employees, and connecting vulnerable people to vital services and care.” 

“If you are part of a transportation system and you really want to start addressing this, the very, very first thing you need to do is to find your homeless provider in town. You need to go over, sit down, have a cup of coffee with the executive director, the CEO, and say, tell me about your outreach. Tell me about your engagement.” – Diana Stanley, The Lord’s Place

At The Lord’s Place, everyone working on engagement with persons experiencing homelessness have been there themselves. They are peers, able to connect their lived experience with the person finding shelter on the bus or in the station.

While this podcast focuses primarily on the ways transit agencies are collaborating more and more to address homelessness in an intersectional and compassionate way, the big underlying challenge is the lack of affordable housing and adequate support for people who become homeless.



Photo courtesy Stephanie Wiggins, LA Metro

Featured Guests

Daniel Gibson, MSW, Regional Vice President, Miami-Dade, Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Miami, FL

Leslie Richards, General Manager and CEO, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Philadelphia, PA

Diana Stanley, CEO, The Lord’s Place, West Palm Beach, FL

Stephanie Wiggins, CEO, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), Los Angeles, CA

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