A Green Line train pulled in to its final stop at Union Depot just after 2 a.m., and a few passengers filtered out. Another light-rail train would not be coming until 4 a.m. because of a new cutback in its 24-hour transit service.
If any passengers leaving the train Monday were homeless, the Metro Transit Police Department's Homeless Action Team, Ramsey County and St. Paul law enforcement and social service groups were on hand to connect them to shelters, although the supply was reportedly strained.
The outreach was in part prompted by Metro Transit's decision to cut Green Line service on weekdays between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. to allow for trains, equipment and track to be maintained. The transit agency is offering replacement bus service while train service is shut down.
The 11-mile Green Line has connected the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul since 2014. The same hours are already in effect for the Blue Line, which links Target Field in Minneapolis with the Mall of America in Bloomington.
Sgt. Brooke Blakey, who leads Metro Transit's Homeless Action Team, said initiation of the new schedule went smoothly Monday morning.
"We do this all the time. We've been reaching out and talking to individuals to get them service," she said. She estimated that Metro Transit connected with 20 to 30 people who were displaced by the new schedule Monday morning.
Several homeless passengers said they weren't aware of the change on Monday, the first day of the new schedule, although Metro Transit has posted notices and made announcements at stations and on trains over the past week or so. Some wayward passengers even waited on the westbound platform at Union Depot for a train that wouldn't come for another two hours.
Kimberly Meurtha, who has been homeless since January after she was evicted from her St. Paul apartment, said she sleeps on the train about twice a week.
"Now I'll have to find a bench to sleep on," said Meurtha, who was clutching a bed pillow and a can of Pringles. "If it's chilly out, I'll want to come on the train."
The number of homeless people using light-rail trains as shelter largely depends on the weather and tends to surge as the temperature dips. One count taken Jan. 23 by Minneapolis-based St. Stephen's Human Services found 431 people seeking shelter on trains and at transit stations.
Social service advocates say that the problem is exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing in the metro and that many homeless people suffer from chronic mental and physical health issues.
"My question is: 'Why are they doing this now?' " said Todd Feske, of Walking With A Purpose Minnesota, a St. Paul-based organization seeking to end chronic homelessness. "Is it for maintenance or because in the past couple of years people have complained [about homeless people on the trains]?"
"We're not solving anything here, we're just moving people around," said Feske, who was stationed near Union Depot to lend a hand Monday morning.
Sheltering at Union Depot was not an option because it closes from midnight to 6 a.m.
Until Monday, the Green Line was the only light-rail line in the country offering 24-hour service, seven days a week.