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BART directors consider forming a nonprofit for homeless services

A homeless person sleeps on a bench on the Lake Merritt BART Station platform in Oakland. | Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Leaders at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) are considering creating a nonprofit to solicit funds for homelessness as the crisis increasingly spills over into trains and transit stations.  

BART board directors said this week that a nonprofit could help the agency source private donations for homelessness services, though further details are forthcoming. The crisis is weighing on the agency’s budget, said board member Janice Li, as train stations and workers increasingly fill the role of offering shelter and outreach to unhoused people.  

“BART on our own is never going to solve the homeless crisis, but we’ve also taken a strong stance that we can’t just look away,” said Li. “This nonprofit model would be more so BART can stay true to its mission. […] We run trains at the end of the day.” 

Li said that the agency spends upward of $30 million annually on outreach as many unhoused people use BART stations and trains as temporary shelters. She said that creating a nonprofit is just one of many ideas to address the issue, and couldn’t provide details on what functions the nonprofit would carry out.  

BART police officers talk with a man at the Civic Center BART Station in San Francisco. | Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The proposal comes as San Francisco city officials demand greater oversight of nonprofits in the wake of financial scandals and an investigation by The Standard that found dozens of government-funded charities out of compliance with state law. 

“Obviously this would trigger a ton of accountability and oversight. […] I am closely watching the conversations happening in San Francisco,” Li said. 

Li said local and state governments are responsible for addressing homelessness, but that BART is looking to help because of its role as a default provider of shelter. 

“There will be a lot of unhoused folks who are just sleeping at the stations when we open the gates at 5 a.m. and the only two options in many of the counties to send folks to is hospitals or jails,” Li said. “We really need the state and the counties to step up to have places for people to actually go.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at

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