SEPTA launches safety and cleaning program to provide social services to people using stations as shelters

SEPTA will partner with local college students to offer social services to people experiencing homelessness using the transit system as a shelter.

SEPTA workers power wash Allegheny Station on Kensington Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA workers power wash Allegheny Station on Kensington Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA is ramping up its services to people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia as part of a new effort to make the overall system cleaner and more appealing to returning riders.

The program is called SCOPE: Safety, Cleaning Ownership, Partnership, and Engagement.

“What makes this different is a holistic approach to address this vulnerable crisis that we found ourselves downstream from and with the program,” said SEPTA’s Ken Divers.

Divers said SEPTA developed the model for the program after Somerset station in the city’s Kensington neighborhood was closed because elevators at the facility were so contaminated with needles and bodily fluids the elevators shut down.

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In order to keep the issues from recurring, Divers said the transit agency has to address the root cause of the problem. SEPTA is bringing in workers who provide social services and additional security, and then will give the station a deep cleaning. The goal is that this could be the model going forward.

The SCOPE program is now working on the Eastern portion of the Market Frankford line which includes Kensington.

Students from Drexel University and Cabrini University will help provide services, in addition to hired help from the Philadelphia Center for Sexual Violence, the Victim Services Center of Montgomery County, One Day at a Time, and the Northeast Treatment Center.

Divers said the goal is to take people who are using the system as shelter and give them the services they need.

“[The workers] go to the system, and they engage the vulnerable population to lead them to places of respite,” Divers said. “While at the same time… it’s going to have a systemic effect by getting them off the system, because our goal is to create a clean, safe, and reliable transit system.”

SEPTA is also in the process of hiring more police officers in order to help secure the system by increasing pay in an effort to get more people to apply.

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Divers says the SCOPE program isn’t a cure-all.

“It is a framework that we can build upon and learn as we go better. And this is why we were able to win the 2022 Innovation Award, because no other transit company in North America has this type of outreach or this type of response to this public health crisis.”

The hope is that a clean and safe system will be able to bring back the SEPTA ridership to pre-pandemic numbers while also giving help to people that need it, Divers said.

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