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Many homeless individuals are seeking refuge at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), highlighting the challenges of airport public transportation infrastructure and the inequality of those that arrive to the airport for disparate reasons.
Buses and trains have always been a part of the migrating homeless in the area. Transit lines like the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s Route 22 (also known as “Hotel 22”) run overnight — and is a relatively safe refuge for those without a home to get some sleep while the bus rumbles along.
Now, many more homeless are migrating south from the city on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and terminating at SFO for the night.
The Homeless Numbers
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in February 2019, there were triple the number of calls about homeless contacts at SFO compared to the previous year. That total was 1,139 calls in February or about 40 per day.
Airport officials and BART officials disagreed on the exact number of homeless that are arriving to the airport via BART. However, it is known that people have been seeking refuge at SFO’s international terminal. BART’s train stop is located there. And once the last train of the night arrives to the terminal after 1:30am, a handful of riders without a home disembark.
The Solution — For Now — Is Terrible
From 10pm to 6am, SFO technically only allows employees, ticketed travelers and people dropping or picking up fliers to be in the terminals. The solution for now seems to have been either 1) turning a blind eye or 2) giving homeless individuals a token to ride a bus out of SFO.
Clearly, both options are unsustainable, especially the latter. Officials are said to be looking for ways to work with homeless services agencies to try to get help for individuals.
With a sky-high cost of living and a housing crisis, the SF area has a rampant homelessness issue. All things considered, sleeping in a warm airport terminal seems to be a much better alternative than being forced out into the cold. According to airport employees who were interviewed by the Chronicle, there are “regulars” that have been basically residents of SFO.
A few homeless people are regulars, including one man who has essentially lived in the terminal “for years,” said an airport employee who did not want to give her name. He spends his days mostly near the United Airlines counter on the lofty, sunlit departures level.