BART's crisis intervention expert provides homeless outreach

BART says it has a way of dealing with the growing number of homeless and the mentally ill that congregate at its stations.

The transit agency says there has been a 45 percent increase in mental health related calls during the past five years.

Part of their efforts includes a crisis intervention expert very few people know about. His job is to provide outreach with the homeless and the mentally ill and try to keep everyone safe.

As street musicians or buskers provide the backdrop of various genres of music at San Francisco’s Powell Street Station, it’s also a haven for the homeless.

Many of the homeless here are what Armando Sandoval, BART’s crisis intervention expert, calls "regulars" he knows by name.

"Hey all right man?" asks Sandoval of a homeless man.

Walking around stations is part of how Sandoval does outreach, to try to prevent the homeless, many suffering from mental illness, from getting involved in deadly situations.  He offers referrals to services.

"I'm with the outreach team here," says Sandoval to one homeless man who replied, “I don't need you."

Without missing a beat, Sandoval says to the man," You going to be all right there? You take care now sir. "

Though his offers of help are often refused, Sandoval says persistence pays off.

He says many are veterans. Some have accepted help.

"You think you can come up with that paperwork?" asked Sandoval of another homeless man who has been a fixture at the station for years.

In July 2011, a homeless, mentally-ill man got into confrontation with BART police.

The transit agency says an officer shot and killed the man because he threw a knife at police.

BART's Police Chief Kenton Rainey says crisis intervention is crucial to saving lives, whether it is the mentally ill or police officers.

"All the officers killed in the line of duty in the county I was working at, were killed by someone mentally ill so this is a huge huge officer safety concern." said Rainey.

The chief hired Sandoval, whose background includes teaching crisis intervention techniques to various Bay Area law enforcement agencies.

In his four years with BART, Sandoval has trained almost the entire force of more than 200 sworn officers.
And since the deadly shooting of the homeless man five years ago, BART says it hasn't had any other deadly confrontations involving their officers.

He says patience, empathy and knowing how to de-escalate are key, "Everybody is looking for shelter that's on the street. It's about safety. It's about survival."

Sandoval's s goal each day is to keep everyone safe: the public, the homeless, the mentally ill and the police.

"You see things got to have hope," says Sandoval.

He says the majority of the homeless gather at the Powell Street and Civic Center stations. But his work takes him system wide coverage of all four counties where BART runs.