San Francisco Chronicle
Report: BART program served 1 person
Three years since BART and the Salvation Army rolled out a $350,000 program to tackle surging homelessness on trains, the results are in: One person received services during the life of the contract, according to a recent report from BART’s inspector general.
The agreement, which lasted from July 2020 to July 2022, focused on homeless services at BART stations between Embarcadero and 16th Street. The contract was not renewed for 2023 due to “less than desired outcomes from their (Salvation Army) team,” the report read.
Inspector General Harriet Richardson began probing the contract after receiving multiple allegations regarding the program. According to the complaints, a transgender person was denied services, BART was not given access to the shelter beds it was funding, and the Salvation Army had failed to supply the services outlined in its contract. Richardson found most of the allegations to be unsubstantiated but was able to conclude that there were no metrics for accountability included in the contract.
Richardson said that data provided in the Salvation Army’s monthly reports “did not clearly communicate outcome results and found on at least one occasion, the results changed without a clear explanation.”
“I think it (the program) did not have the benefits that people thought it should have. And in that sense, I would call it a waste of money,” she said. “If you aren’t getting a clear benefit from it, why are you even doing it?”
The report also pointed out that the agreement between the two organizations used an abstinence-only model for recovery, making people promise to stop abusing substances in exchange for help, rather than a harm reduction model. Richardson said the latter approach would be more effective and appealing to people who are homeless and suffer from substance abuse.
During the partnership, the outreach team reported making contact with 3,217 people between January 2021 and May 2022, yet only one was enrolled for services. Alicia Trost, BART’s chief communications officer, pointed to the Salvation Army’s sobriety requirement as the reason more contacts were unable to receive assistance. “The use of an abstinence-only model was determined to be ineffective by the BART staff overseeing the contract based on the results of the outreach,” she said.
In addition, the report said BART found an increase from 35 to 42 unsheltered people, a 20% hike, at the San Francisco stations between January and March 2022 compared to the same time period in 2021.
Bevan Dufty, a member of BART’s board of directors, said he “100%” supported Richardson’s recommendations about identifying specific metrics and outcomes in future studies. Dufty contends that the agency hasn’t received enough support from the city of San Francisco.
“We are doing better in other counties in our jurisdiction, and examples with San Mateo County and Contra Costa County have had very robust service models and agencies that do outreach and particularly in Contra Costa County with the CORE team,” he said, referring to street outreach workers in Contra Costa who link people to shelter and health care.
Despite the auditor’s dismal assessment of the partnership, Dufty said some good came out of it, and a spokesperson for the Salvation Army touted it as successful.
“The program successfully provided outreach and streetlevel services to hundreds of San Francisco’s most vulnerable, and we’re grateful to BART for initiating a compassionate response to people experiencing homelessness,” Major Darren Norton, a divisional commander for the Salvation Army, said.
Norton said throughout the program, Salvation Army provided a steady presence in BART stations, offering food, hygiene kits, counseling services and primary and behavioral health care in San Francisco.
“In the event someone on the street requested or voluntarily agreed to enter a detox program, four beds were reserved at the SF Harbor Light Recovery and Wellness Services,” Norton said.
Dufty, however, had reservations.
“I couldn’t say it’s a success because I don’t think we have the data to demonstrate and prove that,” the BART board director said. “In the world of government and transparency, you cannot be successful without independent validation.”