Friday, February 4, 2011

Amtrak to get tough regarding homeless people at the train station

Sacramento Valley Station: home of our metro's Amtrak station; downtown terminus of the Gold Line of the county's light-rail service; and the terminus of several medium- to long-distant bus lines.
I have been informed from a reliable source who knows an insider, that Sacramento Valley Train Station management has terminated use of one security service for use of another in an effort to combat the presence of homeless people at the station.

"Homeless people" were pointedly cited as the problem that was causal for a recent complete change in the station's security team.

There are said to be complaints from national Amtrak personnel and from those awaiting trains in the station that the restrooms — particularly, the men's restrooms — are getting trashed.  Homeless people are cited as the cause.

There have also been complaints about people sleeping on the benches during late night and early morning hours, and that these people are noticeable because of their ragged attire.   The train station opens at 4:15am every day, and closes at about midnight (though the exact closing time can get adjusted on the fly due to scheduling delays).

Reality check

The train station is a lifesaver for many homeless people who get caught under-prepared on a difficult very cold night.

Many homeless people who are most in need of services, and suffer the most, stay downtown and sleep as they can downtown. It would be nice — damn nice — if the insanely negligent homeless-services charities would do something to help these people, many of whom have mental-illness issues and addiction problems, but, hey, they're too busy empire building and deciding which brick facade looks best on their new multi-million dollar warehouse.

Many times, I have needed to "stay out" because of overcrowding at the homeless shelter.  When it is necessary for me to do this, I go to one of a couple spots I have where I am most comfortable sleeping in public and where, from experience, I have not been rousted by the police or security people.  My spots are downtown.  When it has been very very cold, I have 'taken advantage' of the train station as a place to be warmed.  It's been a God send.

I do know that the men's room at the station does gets trashed, graffiti gets etched into the toilet seats [usually 666s and swastikas], the walls get spray painted and the paper products are stolen or wasted.  It's a big recurring problem.  It greatly detracts from the ambiance of the friendly station.

Still, there needs to be a middle way. A policy of chasing homeless folk out of the station can be done in such a ham-handed way that it is very very cruel. Ours is an unfriendly metropolis toward homeless people — both because core homeless-services providers are crap and because hate is easier than compassion.

Homeless people are surely not the only category of folks trashing the men's rooms. Most homeless people are gentle and meek, but certainly there are many antisocial homeless people in the mix, too.

I am hopeful that Amtrak management will not target the homeless, choosing to go after a category of people, rather than those who are the specific wrongdoers.

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