Agencies work to transport homeless populations to shelter as threat of COVID-19 intensifies

April 7, 2020
With many places in North American under shelter in place orders, what happens to the unsheltered?

The novel coronavirus is a particularly nasty foe. Not everyone who has the virus “gets” sick, but those asymptomatic people can still spread it to others. Not a good mix among vulnerable populations, such as the unsheltered, which is why agencies such as Metro Transit in Minneapolis, Minn., GoTriangle in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, are working to transport homeless individuals to shelter.  

GoTriangle is in partnership with Durham County Emergency Management to transport people sheltering at Urban Ministries of Durham, a non-profit that provides food, shelter and other services, to an area hotel to help with social-distancing efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were asked if there was any way we could provide a couple of buses to transport people from Urban Ministries to hotels as they were trying to ensure social distancing of people at Urban Ministries,” said Pat Stephens, GoTriangle’s director of Transit Operations. “We provided two buses, and our operators went out and they worked with folks from Urban Ministries and others to transport the folks by bus and some of their personal belongings over to a hotel.”

GoTriangle partnered with Durham County Emergency Management to offer evacuation and supply-delivery assistance during Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Stephens says as with any crisis, GoTriangle is here to help.

“We’re more than a bus company,” said Stephens. “We’re there when the community needs us, as well during emergencies.”

In Minneapolis, Metro Transit has helped bring more than 200 individuals and their belongings to hotels since mid-March through a partnership with Hennepin and Ramsey counties and service providers such as the Harbor Light Center and the First Covenant Church in downtown Minneapolis.

Additionally, the Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team is working alongside service providers in St. Paul and Minneapolis to help a growing number of individuals in need to provide emergency supplies and direct individuals in need to safe shelter and other resources.

In Edmonton, Alberta, eight ETS bus operators have volunteered to operate a new route that connects Edmonton’s inner-city agencies with the Edmonton EXPO Centre, which is home to a daytime drop-in space and an isolation shelter for some Edmontonians experiencing homelessness.

Passengers board the buses through the back door and no more than 15 are allowed on the 40-foot vehicles at one time. Each bus is outfitted with a floor-to-ceiling, double plastic, vapor barrier separating the operator from the passenger space to enhance safety of the driver and passengers.

In a write up provided by the city of Edmonton on the new service, one of the ETS operators who volunteered to run the route, Derek Bailey, noted that each person on board deserved to ride with security and dignity and arrive safely.

“It shows that ETS recognizes the need to support the community,” said Bailey. “One of our key values at the city of Edmonton is to be helpful.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.