Daniel Marcin admits he probably did act like a lot of the other passengers when he got on a Green Line train leaving Gallery Place on Monday morning and smelled the distinct smell of feces.
The stench was coming from a man sitting in the middle of the car. Marcin couldn’t describe him afterward. He was trying not to look. But he did notice that most of the 15 or so other passengers stood away from the man, though it didn’t help them escape the odor.
Marcin said he probably did make a face. And when the train pulled into Archives a moment later, he joined several others in escaping to the next car.
Later, Marcin wondered if the man saw his look of disgust or if he’d done something to make the man feel ashamed.
“If I did, I’m sorry about that,” he said.
But while he was saying later that he could have handled the situation better, a Twitter exchange he had with Metro about the encounter stood out to me. Instead of tweeting the usual complaints that the smell of urine — or worse — on Metro might elicit, Marcin tried to get the man some help.
Metro at first sounded as if it assumed Marcin wanted the man kicked off the train, and said it was letting Metro Transit Police know: “Good morning Daniel. Thank you for reporting this. We have contacted MTPD and they would notify a medic if one is needed to assist. Our car maintenance team is also dispatching a road mechanic to help clean up.”
But that’s not what he wanted. “When I say help, I mean a social worker, not the police,” he tweeted back.
"The man needed a shower and a change of clothes, right? He didn’t need to get arrested,” he told me later.
He tweeted, “Ok a police interaction was kinda the last thing I wanted the guy to have, but if it was all you could do, fine. I think the guy’s problems go beyond this morning.”
Metro responded, “We understand your concern and appreciate you reaching out on his behalf. Unfortunately we do not have social workers on staff to assist with riders but MTPD can help to connect him with resources. Thanks for riding with us & have a good day.”
Marcin works as a federal economist. So he’s not an expert on these things. He said he was fine with Metro’s answer if it meant the man was going to get some help. But later, he wondered if the man did get help.
Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said police did go find the man, but he couldn’t immediately say what the police did.
Transit police “are trained to handle these situations with sensitivity and to recognize the appropriate course of action, whether an individual needs medics, shelter, mental health services, or may be a danger to themselves," he said. They’re aware of what social services are available in an area, so they can refer the person.
According to a 2016 study by the National Academies of Sciences, 91 percent of transit agencies surveyed said they considered the homeless to be an issue, particularly because they can drive away other riders.
Some places are taking innovative approaches. Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) worked with social services groups to open an 800-square-foot “Hub of Hope” near Penn Center, the city’s busiest rail station. The group serves free food and coffee to get the homeless to come in and get connected to needed services.
Minnesota’s Metro transit police last year created a special unit whose members go around introducing themselves to the homeless to see what they need. They also began handing out rental vouchers last year to get people into housing.
Los Angeles’ Metro system in 2017 contracted with a social services group to send outreach workers on the subway, providing what help they could — such as rides to the doctor and help getting photo IDs, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I don’t know that I’m any more passionate about [helping the homeless] than other people,” Marcin said about his tweets.
“I don’t volunteer at a homeless shelter or anything,” he said. “But I would prefer that homeless people had safe and healthy homes, much like anyone else would.”
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