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A new program meant to help the homeless launches on Portland’s streetcars

The program started in January and only has enough federal funding to last the rest of the year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new program on Portland’s streetcars works to prioritize safety while increasing ridership. It’s called the Streetcar Ridership Ambassador Program and it provides support for vulnerable riders.

The program is also meant to make riding the streetcar more appealing for people, since ridership has dropped over the past two years.

The ambassadors work in teams of two, wearing purple vests and backpacks filled with supplies such as granola bars, socks and water bottles.

“I just kind of serve as a presence on the streetcar, kind of balancing the needs of all the riders,” said Zeyaad Moussa, one of the rider ambassadors.

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Each day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Moussa rides the streetcar and helps those experiencing homelessness, struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues.

“We look for people who might be sleeping or have a lot of possessions scattered around, people who look like they may be in pain or struggling somehow," said Jack Blashchishen, another rider ambassador. “We are not acting towards people in a discriminatory way, we’re not kicking people out.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 14,000 people rode the Portland streetcar daily. During the peak of the pandemic, that number dropped to 3,000. Now, the numbers have stabilized somewhat. The Portland streetcar sees about 8,000 riders on an average weekday.

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“It’s ticking back up quite a bit, so that’s been encouraging for us,” said Andrew Plambeck, the streetcar public affairs manager.

Portland's streetcar system received $440,000 dollars from a federal COVID grant, and about $175,000 went toward starting this rider ambassador program.

“We’ve heard from a lot of regular riders that they’ve seen these new people in purple vests on board and it’s made them feel safe,” said Plambeck.

Portland Streetcar only has enough funding to keep the program going until the end of the year. They’re working to secure enough money to make it permanent.

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