Technically his title is senior manager of social service partnerships, but Daniel Cooperman is now BART's point person for humanely addressing homelessness in stations and on trains.
"BART is reflective of the Bay Area, so homelessness is huge and we’re seeing hundreds and hundreds of unsheltered individuals every day," Cooperman says in an interview with Bay Area News Group. "I think especially in light of the pandemic, with so many shelters closing and capacity being limited, BART has been the one constant that’s been open."
The growing presence of homeless individuals riding trains all day was something that BART was addressing six months before the pandemic began, in the summer of 2019. BART's marketing and research department surveyed the trains at the time and found that there were twice as many homeless riding the trains on weekends, and 50% more on weekdays, than the year prior — an average of 160 individuals per 100 train cars on weekends, and 64 per 100 cars on weekdays.
BART director Bevan Dufty — himself a former homelessness "czar" for San Francisco — told the Chronicle back in June 2019 that many homeless people used the trains as shelters, and in colder months when the system shut down at midnight, some would even dial 911 at the end of a train line in order to get a lift to a warm emergency room for a few hours.
"One thing we’ve learned is at 5 a.m. when stations open, there are people sleeping at the gates," Dufty said. "And because of how easy it is to fare-evade, they just flood the system."
Cooperman is now helping BART to create a "Strategic Homeless Action Plan," and the plan includes hiring 20 new crisis-intervention specialists, who will do the job of interacting with homeless people in stations and on trains that had been done in the past by BART Police.
BART rolled out its Ambassador program last year, putting unarmed, uniformed outreach teams on trains to address quality-of-life infractions. As of this past February, the program celebrated its one-year anniversary, and BART said that over the course of the year, ambassadors had 12,000 "educational contacts" with people, and they "checked in" with 10,000 people on platforms. BART said that only 132 of those contacts required the assistance of a police officer.
The new crisis-intervention specialists will join the Ambassador squad to handle more serious situations — and Cooperman calls the combined team BART's "progressive policing bureau."
Cooperman says, "The creation of the progressive policing bureau is huge and monumental, being able to respond to calls where people are calling in and we don’t really need a police presence, what we need is someone who can go up and talk to someone. We’re going to have non-sworn police officers be able to respond to that. Folks who have a ton of experience in the human service world and can provide that connection to whatever service the subject might need — whether it’s a connection to a case management program, a housing program, whatever."
And the need for such a team is high, Cooperman says, especially when so many mentally ill individuals are giving BART passes when they are released from institutions — often before they ought to be released.
"People get a BART pass, and so then they’re at BART with nowhere to go," he says.
Cooperman says people should begin seeing the "progressive policing bureau" out in force by the end of the year.
Photo: Ephraim Mayrena