As of January 2020, there were more than 550,000 people experiencing some type of homelessness in the United States. Furthermore, it is estimated that even more people are homeless now because of job cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Homelessness is a problem, and not just for the people who are experiencing it. It creates burdens on local governments, communities, and businesses. There are increased financial burdens across the board as more money is needed for police, damage repair, solutions, and more. Furthermore, homelessness and crime go hand in hand. In fact, the rate of violent crimes is 40 times higher and nonviolent crimes is 27 times higher in a homeless population. This includes things like:
- Aggressive panhandling
- Drug and substance abuse, including buying and selling
- Vandalism and graffiti
- Illegal vending and peddling
- Physical violence
- Sexual assault
- Trash dumping
- Property damage
Homelessness and retail
One of the biggest industries affected by homelessness is retail. The retail business model depends on a public space. Customers need to be able to come and go freely. This also opens the way for homeless individuals to come and go freely. However, retail stores are a place of business, not a homeless shelter. It is not the retailers’ responsibility to cure homelessness, but it is often a delicate problem they have to deal with.
Homeless people often take advantage of retailers. They will enter the store to stay warm, use the bathrooms to clean up, and even steal. In fact, not only does a homeless presence increase theft and shrink, but it also destroys retailers’ property, increases violent incidents at the store, and more.
Asset protection and loss prevention professionals are faced with the complex issue of trying to defend their store while treating the homeless kindly. Afterall, they are still people, but retailers can’t allow them to steal with impunity. Stores are a place of business and still need to make a profit.
Furthermore, retailers can’t afford to have homeless people camping out on their property. Even when homeless individuals are not aggressive or committing a crime, they can still be a detriment to the store. Often their presence is enough to deter legitimate customers who will take their business where they feel comfortable. But when things do turn violent, it gets even worse for the retailer. No legitimate customers will shop where their safety is threatened.
What can be done?
Retailers are fighting an uphill battle. They can’t be and shouldn’t be cruel, but they can’t stand by and watch as homeless encampments increase crimes on and around their properties. While retailers can rely on some help from local law enforcement, a trespassing violation is low on their list of priorities and it can take hours before they have a chance to respond.
Luckily, there are some methods that retailers can employ to help prevent homeless individuals and groups from entering or staying on their property. Each step is non-intrusive for legitimate customers, easy and low cost to implement, and harmless to homeless people.
The first step is to eliminate areas that can be used as shelter, including dark or obstructed areas around the building. By removing these areas, homeless people will be less likely to set up camp on the property. For example, a simple way to eliminate these areas is to increase lighting around the building.
The second step goes hand in hand with the first, and it is to increase eyes on the property. This can be in the form of guards or cameras. Either way, it needs to be visible so it can deter unwanted visitors. However, it needs to be balanced properly. Too much added security and the store will look like the next Fort Knox to customers and scare them away as well as the unwanted guests.
The last step is to use audio, particularly at night. A study conducted in Australia found that playing Barry Manilow music in their parks deterred loitering at night. Similar results have been observed with classical music. By playing music in outdoor spaces, homeless people and other loiterers will go where it is more peaceful.
The mobile security trailer from LiveView Technologies (LVT) is capable of all three steps mentioned above. Our wireless units are compact enough to fit in a single parking stall while still acting as a deterrent. They can be stationed anywhere around the building, whether that is behind the dumpster or in front of the main store entrance.
Furthermore, our units are equipped with cameras, flood lights, and a two-way speaker. Each element can be used to deter homeless people from loitering on the property. The best part is that our units are cost effective, easy to use, and can be rapidly deployed.
Find out more how our units can deter crime on retail properties by watching this webinar.