BART and SFO are teaming up to address the uptick in homeless individuals who ride the last train to the airport at night and then use the airport for shelter, and for occasional petty crimes.
Airport officials and the SFPD have been complaining for months that they want BART's help in addressing a growing trend of homeless people arriving in the airport looking for places to sleep at night. As the SFPD Airport Bureau's Deputy Chief Mikail Ali tells ABC 7, "It's generally a large group between 20 to 30 people and it happens every single night."
The issue has been ongoing for several years, and while crime is not associated with all the people are arriving looking for shelter, incidents of crime have helped spur calls for new ways of discouraging the nightly influx. One incident in which an SFPD officer was stabbed by a homeless person at the airport in 2017, highlighted the growing issue in the press — and at the time the SFPD said that officers were meeting homeless arrivals on the last train to SFO "every night" and offering them bus rides back to the city, SAMtrans tokens, and mental health services.
Airport officials tell ABC 7 that stolen bags remain an ongoing problem as well.
Airport duty managers and SFPD officers at SFO told the Chronicle in April that their daily interactions with the homeless had tripled in two years — up from around a dozen per day in 2017 to over 30 per day in February of this year. The uptick was especially notable in January and February because of winter weather and San Francisco's ongoing shelter crisis.
From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., airport rules say that only employees, ticketed passengers, and those dropping off or picking up passengers are allowed to be in the terminals.
Now, as ABC 7 reports, the Airport Commission is set to approve a Memorandum of Understanding with BART on Tuesday that will add one BART police officer to the train station at SFO, installing new barriers in the station — like these? — and calls for the sharing of CCTV footage between the airport and BART.
SFO is far from alone in having to handle an influx of unhoused people at the end of BART service at night. All of end-of-line stations have been facing the issue in some form, with Pittsburg/Bay Point Station having a particular problem due to the fact that there is no bus service from the station after 10:44 p.m. on weekdays. A county homeless outreach organization has stepped in to offer shuttles to shelters, but the station has still found that some individuals camp just outside the station or in the parking lot until trains start running again at 5 a.m. "There’s people in the Bay Area who don’t have any homes, so they just ride the trains," as BART spokesman Jim Allison tells the Chronicle. "Are they living in the transit system? Well, that’s subjective."
Across the Bay Area, counties have seen an average increase in the homeless population of almost 30 percent, while Alameda County saw an uptick of 43 percent in the last two years. And as we learned last week, using the same counting criteria as 2017, San Francisco saw a 30 percent rise in homelessness in those two years, so it's no wonder that there were more people seeking shelter at the airport this past winter than there were in the winter of 2017.