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Surge in homeless people seeking shelter at San Francisco Airport raises security concerns


Police calls have tripled at the airport over past two years

Robert Alexander/Getty Images

A surge in homeless people seeking refuge inside San Francisco International Airport has raised security concerns and has officials searching for solutions to the problem.

Police contacts with homeless people have tripled over the past two years, according to public records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. In February, authorities received about 40 calls per day regarding homeless at the airport compared to about 12 a day in March 2017.

A former airport employee told KTVU-TV that she wouldn't walk around the airport alone during the early morning hours because she often encountered homeless individuals.

The problem at the airport is an additional layer to the homeless crisis affecting the Bay Area.

How do they end up at the airport?

The majority arrive at the terminal in the middle of the night by train, according to officials.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit requires people to get off the train when it goes out of service for the night.

"Bottom line, this particular arrival at night is an area of focus as a disproportionate number of riders on trains are homeless," SFO spokesman Doug Yakel told the Chronicle. "We've been working with BART to examine where trains terminate for the night, and we've also requested that BART sweep trains for homeless before they arrive at SFO."

Armando Sandoval, police crisis intervention team coordinator for BART, said he isn't surprised by the problem.

"I think it's typical of migrating homeless. It could be buses, trains or subway trains," Sandoval told the newspaper. "They spend time on the trains and forget where they are and end up at the end-of-the-line locations."

What else is being done?

Airport officials are considering short- and long-term options to move homeless out of the airport.

"We might make SamTrans tokens available to them," airport spokesperson Doug Yakel said. "We might, if they're eligible, transport them to a nearby homeless shelter, if BART is still running we can give them a token to a BART train."

But there are still limits since the city lacks enough shelters for an estimated homeless population of more than 28,000, according to Fox News. The majority are believed to be living on the streets.

Yakel said airport officials hope to find ways to help those they encounter.

"Ultimately we want to develop advocacy that finds the proper channels for these individuals," Yakel told the newspaper. "So, we're starting to reach out to homeless advocacy in San Mateo County. We're looking to set up something with the city of San Francisco as well."

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