August 18, 2020 

New Approach Focusing on Direct Outreach, Regional Collaboration

ATLANTA - In response to customer concerns about unsheltered individuals taking refuge on the transit system, MARTA is launching a yearlong pilot program with HOPE Atlanta, a non-profit organization that offers housing, social services, substance abuse counseling, and employment to those who need it.

The MARTA HOPE Team initiative begins this month as a humane and tactical approach to a national issue that has grown increasingly acute since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and is compounded by the shortage of affordable housing options in major metropolitan areas, including Atlanta.

The new project will pair two experienced HOPE Atlanta case managers with trained Field Protective Specialists (FPS) under the auspices of the MARTA Police Department. Working on a daily basis, the outreach teams will actively engage unsheltered individuals they encounter on MARTA property including on trains and buses, and at rail stations and bus shelters.

“As we continue providing safe and reliable transportation for our customers, we know there are people on our system only because they may have nowhere else to go,” said MARTA GM & CEO Jeffrey Parker. “We won’t tolerate criminal behavior, but being homeless is not a crime. We are committed to finding solutions that safeguard customers and employees while treating everyone with dignity and respect.”    

Jeff Smythe is executive director of HOPE Atlanta, one of the area’s oldest and most prominent homeless outreach organizations. 

“Those seeking refuge in MARTA’s stations, trains and buses will be met with trained street case managers who are relentlessly pursuing stable and supportive housing solutions with them,” Smythe said. “This approach has been proven to be the most effective intervention in permanently housing unsheltered individuals.  This is cutting-edge for city transit systems and will ensure much better coordination for those who feel they have nowhere to turn – especially during this pandemic and financial crisis.”

The teams will also coordinate their efforts with organizations focused on the region’s unsheltered population including the Gateway Center, Partners for Home, and the Regional Commission on Homelessness (RCOH), funded by the United Way of Greater Atlanta, as well as MARTA’s jurisdictional partners in the City of Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties.

Edward “Jack” Hardin is co-chairman of RCOH and co-founder of the Gateway Center, a facility in downtown Atlanta that is also supporting the MARTA HOPE program.

“We are excited about the possibilities of this innovative partnership with MARTA” Hardin said. “The options for unsheltered individuals have lessened in the pandemic as churches closed, some shelters restricted new people or have closed. As a result, increasing numbers of unsheltered individuals have sought refuge in public infrastructure such a MARTA. Reaching out proactively to these individuals and offering help is both the humane and the most likely to succeed approach.”

Customers are encouraged to support the MARTA HOPE project by downloading MARTA’s “See & Say” smartphone app. It can be used to anonymously report any customer-related concerns or issues, including unsheltered individuals on MARTA who are in need of assistance.



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