The Bay Area Rapid Transit Agency funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into a homeless outreach program run by the Salvation Army that resulted in just one confirmed unsheltered person receiving its services, according to an inspector general report released Friday.
The report is part of a handful of investigations at the transit agency released Friday afternoon, which document allegations of wage theft, opaque spending, and one former BART employee nabbing $2.2 million in contracts from the agency two months after quitting his job.
It is also the BART inspector general’s latest attempt in a years-long battle to audit the agency, which she says repeatedly fought oversight. A civil grand jury report from last year found a “pattern of obstruction” from BART and its major unions.
”I think the top line is, are we wasting money?” said Harriet Richardson, BART’s inspector general, referring to the audit. “Especially when you consider where BART is financially, are we spending money unnecessarily for things that have no measurable outcome?”
The Salvation Army program was approved in two contracts spanning service from July 2020 through July 2022. It was meant to fund homeless outreach teams at San Francisco’s two BART stations on Mission Street and provide dedicated access to up to four beds for people with mental health and drug addiction issues to seek care.
During the 24-month period, the team reported thousands of contacts with people but could only confirm one person using the residential treatment services. Meanwhile, BART saw a 21% year-over-year increase in unhoused people at its San Francisco stations in the first quarter of 2022. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency provided half the funds for the BART-awarded contract.
A BART spokesman said Friday that the agency differed with the Salvation Army’s requirement that participants in the program take a pledge of total sobriety. The agency’s new Homeless Action Plan dropped the pledge and was designed for more accountability.
Efforts to reach the Salvation Army late Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness, said she would have expected better results from a two-year, $350,000 program.
“Typically when you’re not able to enroll people who are in desperate situations into programs, it’s a failure of the program model. Or the kind of outreach that they’re doing. Or the way that they’re talking to people,” she said. “It really should be considered a system failure and not an individual failure. Because what it means is you’re not bringing forward services that are catered to meet the needs of the individual you’re reaching out to.”
As of last year, 52% of unhoused residents surveyed during San Francisco’s point-in-time homelessness count reported struggling with drug or alcohol abuse.
Dr. Margot Kushel, professor of medicine and director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, said the program’s problem might have been its narrow focus. Abstinence-focused, residential treatment is hardly a one-size-fits-all solution, she said.
“That is not right for a lot of people,” she said.
Also released on Friday were investigations dealing with conflicts of interest and wage theft.
In one case, a BART engineer left the agency in September 2021 and two months later secured $2.2 million in contracts for his newly established firm. The employee was given the money through a consultant agreement with the leading contractor, which was a company run by his friend. Prior to leaving BART, the employee helped select his friend’s company, which later partnered with him. The report did not include the name of the employee or companies involved in the contract, which includes engineering services for building a new Hayward maintenance facility and modernizing BART’s train control system.
Richardson’s report calls on BART to demand repayment of $1,249,066 already paid out on the contract. BART refused this request but canceled the remainder of the contract.
“BART not wanting to seek repayment is telling contractors, ‘We’re not taking this seriously,’” said Richardson.
In a response included in the report, BART acknowledged the “problematic relationship” but said the work “was performed competently and has been paid for.”
“Seeking repayment for these particular services, for which the District benefitted greatly, would be an unjust enrichment for the District (essentially getting this work done for free) and is likely to cause serious financial harm to the local businesses,” BART added.
Richardson’s office also documented a case of a maintenance worker allegedly defrauding the agency for at least a year by showing up to BART stations for work and then leaving. In some cases, the employee filed for compensation for over 80 hours in one week and 27 days in a 29-day period.
The employee resigned upon learning of the investigation and could face criminal charges.