Dallas Area Rapid Transit will soon launch a pilot program to offer services to vagrants, homeless riders, and passengers suffering from severe mental illness.
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Cares program will cost taxpayers $1.6 million. It will consist of four teams, each of which will include a paramedic, a behavioral health clinician, and a DART police officer.
Two teams will be mobile, operating between platforms and stations, while the other two will patrol the rail system itself. The rail teams will be equipped to offer virtual access to services for homeless people, including veterans services and housing referrals.
“DART’s always been concerned and been trying to help those who are experiencing homelessness,” said Brad Cummings, vice president of business services for DART, as reported by KERA News.
“Our board and our CEO have established over the last few years a really large drive to increase the safety, reliability and cleanliness at our system and have been able to put money where that purpose is,” he said.
“We really wanted to help those who are experiencing homelessness or behavioral health concerns get access to the tools and resources that exist in the community to help and assist them instead of utilizing DART as just the place to be,” Cummings added.
As previously reported by The Dallas Express, DART trains have been awash with vagrancy and rampant drug use. DART riders have even documented other passengers openly using what appeared to be heroin on a train.
DART spokesperson Gordon Shattles told The Dallas Express that the Cares program is a “multidisciplinary response team” with the “long-term goal of developing a community-oriented response team that’s working throughout the DART system.” He said the pilot program will likely launch in late October and will last for one year.
Shattles said the teams would allow DART to swiftly address concerns about homelessness or mental health reported by passengers, residents, or local business owners.
“The idea behind this is to actually be able to work directly with those people who may be experiencing a problem like this one and help them directly,” he said. “A lot of the time our DART officers are policing our system [is spent] involving individuals who may be experiencing homelessness or a mental health concern.”
“We’re hoping to be able to have our police officers more focused on our ridership, on cleanliness on our platforms, and ensuring that everyone has a safe ride,” Shattles told The Dallas Express.
If the pilot program is successful, DART may opt to continue the program and add more teams to its roster. Gordon said the pilot will be judged based on how many encounters the team has and how many people they are able to help.
The program was designed by researchers at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI). Staff developed the program after examining other initiatives like the MARTA Hope program in Atlanta.
B.J. Wagner, senior vice president of health and public safety for MMHPI, told KERA News, “Sometimes these health care needs can contribute to pain and chronicity that can unfold in behavioral patterns that lead to a high number of law enforcement contacts and we want that to stop.”
MMHPI researchers also based the DART Cares program on Austin’s “street medicine” programs.
However, Austin residents recently said their city is being destroyed by homelessness and crime, claiming that an ineffective city council and “radical left” anti-police policies have exacerbated the problems, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
DART’s new program comes amid an ongoing crisis of homelessness and vagrancy in Dallas. A satisfaction survey from the City government recently found that 75% of residents say homelessness is a “major” problem.
While the City has undertaken several strategies to reduce homelessness, it has yet to try the “one-stop-shop” approach taken by the nonprofit Haven for Hope.
Haven for Hope provides homeless services such as counseling, job training, and skills development in the same location as its housing units and requires participants to engage with the services. The strategy has been credited with a 77% reduction in homelessness in San Antonio and previously polled favorably with Dallas voters.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson recently visited Haven for Hope, but it remains to be seen whether the City will adopt its model.