Homelessness and Its Impact on Retailers

Over the course of the past few years, and as businesses emerge from the pandemic and face additional fiscally stressful times due to record inflation, retailers across the United States are facing severe security challenges. Already a prime target for robbery and vandalism, prominent retail locations—particularly in metropolitan areas—are becoming a regular resting spot for individuals who are homeless or individuals seeking to use the location for illicit activities such as drugs or prostitution.

At a growing number of retailers, unhoused individuals have created encampments and taken shelter in parking lots, alleyways, and dumpster areas, presenting a heartbreaking but difficult challenge for many businesses working diligently to keep the perimeter of their property clean, safe, and profitable.

Retailers require a true preventative and proactive security solution that provides a safer method of protection and de-escalation for all parties involved.

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Calling Retail ‘Home’

While homelessness continues to be an epidemic across the country, highly populated urban areas such as Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and New York City are facing the saddening and complex challenges of this epidemic in their own backyards. Many retailers in these locations are becoming prime targets for transient traffic and are struggling to maintain employee and customer safety.

A significant challenge for retailers has been retaining employees and driving customer traffic in the wake of these activities. Retailers are facing many homeless individuals who have set up camps, creating barriers to entry, and they often walk in front of key access points, displaying what some feel would be considered erratic or troubling behavior. Employees and customers have expressed concerns over dealing with individuals’ forceful panhandling, begging for resources, and aggressiveness if turned down.

Another more dangerous and destructive aspect of extended loitering on business grounds is public urination, defecation, and harm to the building in general. This is becoming an increasingly common issue in locations with significantly higher population densities.

The potential for liability issues increases significantly when people overstay their welcome and loiter for extended periods of time. In some cases, settlers may gain access to ladders, dumpsters, and other items that can cause them bodily harm, which presents the possibility of disastrous consequences for the business owner in question if they are found liable for the damages.

Lastly, in the wake of these struggles, savvy criminals are gaining access to entry points like building roofs with the intention of either stealing precious materials (i.e., copper from air conditioning units), or more refined “Mission Impossible” type crimes of breaking into businesses from the top and lowering themselves down into retailers via the ceiling. 

Choosing Proactive Security

Many retailers have access to traditional security equipment like video surveillance or verification and utilize them regularly. However, as discussed above, loitering and crime are still rampant at these organizations. The individuals committing nefarious activities do not believe they are being caught on camera due to a lack of response or consequences. This is where the importance of proactive security comes into play.

Traditional video solutions such as video surveillance or video verification are almost always reactive, while proactive video monitoring (PVM) is proactive. Regarding the scenarios listed above, with PVM, the individuals in question would have been spotted immediately. Specific PVM solutions deliver live audio warnings administered by specialists that caution potential criminals about the actuality of being watched. These trained specialists provide live-specific call-outs to the perpetrator, such as describing the car they arrived in, their apparel, and what they are presently doing. Most of the time, these individuals dislike the specificity and exit the premises or stop the activity quickly—virtually eliminating any crime, protecting the business from losing assets, and thwarting property damage.

So how does this all work? PVM delegates security personnel to focus on high-impact movements while an AI-based engine “watches” out for potential security events. PVM is highly effective at preventing criminal activity by monitoring, engaging in live intervention, and reporting. Built-in intelligence automatically detects risks and transmits a real-time alert to an intervention specialist. The operator studies the area of concern and, if needed, can speak directly to an intruder via a live audio warning.

In addition to stopping illicit activities and loitering, PVM also serves as a safer resolution for unhoused individuals in these circumstances. When intervention specialists utilize their voice down, this is often a safer method to de-escalate rather than a police officer arriving and requesting that they move, which can be considered dehumanizing and, in extreme cases, dangerous, causing aggression and unnecessary escalation. PVM can be used to better protect police officers and unhoused individuals and act as a robust first line of defense for all parties involved.

Prevent and Protect

Many in retail and other sectors recognize the growing threats they face today. For businesses dealing with the heartbreaking impacts of homelessness on their property, it’s imperative to choose proactive security. Safeguarding employees, customers, and assets have never been more critical. And providing a safer and proven de-escalated alternative for unhoused individuals provides a more robust path to resolution.

Organizations looking to switch to proactive methods like PVM should search for solutions that deliver live audio voice-downs, 24/7 monitoring, and rapid reporting with a scalable and adaptable platform that doesn’t demand them to rip and replace all existing hardware and infrastructure.

Many solutions currently being used by retailers are outdated and plagued with reactionary actions that leave businesses with a steep bill to pay or cause unnecessary police intervention. Investing in proactive solutions is the resourceful answer and can give retailers guaranteed peace of mind like never before.

Justin Wilmas

Justin Wilmas has more than 15 years of experience solving security challenges for end users and channel partners. Throughout his career, he has consistently broken new ground in driving business growth for a number of industry leaders, while helping customers implement holistic enterprise security solutions that minimize risk and achieve compliance and operational efficiencies. Currently president of Netwatch Systems, Justin continues to maintain his focus on creating a positive team environment as he has at companies including Quantum Secure, AMAG Technology, and Pelco.

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