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Understanding the Impact of Homelessness on Retail Centers

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Homelessness presents multifaceted challenges for retail centers, from onsite safety to customer perceptions. This article looks closely at the impact of homelessness on retail centers—detailing safety concerns, property damage, and the adverse effect on customer experience. It lays out the management strategies used to address these complex issues, ensuring a safe and positive environment for shoppers.

Key Takeaways

  • The presence of homeless individuals in retail centers can lead to safety concerns, property damage, and negative customer experiences, potentially reducing revenue and property value.
  • Retail centers are responding to homelessness by implementing robust security measures, forming partnerships with local organizations, and establishing policies and procedures to manage the situation effectively.
  • Preventive measures against homelessness within retail centers include community outreach programs, strategically designed environments, and comprehensive employee training to address the issue before it escalates.

The Effects of Homelessness on Retail Centers

Homelessness is a multifaceted issue, affecting not just the individuals experiencing it, but also the environments they inhabit, including retail centers. The presence of homeless individuals can lead to safety concerns, property damage, and negative customer experiences. These impacts can ripple out, affecting business operations and revenue, and discouraging potential customers and visitors.

Safety Concerns

Like any public space, retail centers also prioritize safety. The presence of homeless individuals can pose safety considerations, from aggressive panhandling and public urination to potential harm to the infrastructure. These concerns can create an environment that feels unsafe or uncomfortable for customers and employees alike.

The situation is further complicated by the correlation between homelessness and increased crime rates. Studies show a significant association between homelessness and higher crime rates, including both violent and nonviolent crimes, in retail centers. Common crimes associated with homelessness include:

  • begging for money
  • theft
  • drug-related crimes
  • intimidation of employees

These safety concerns can negatively impact customer traffic, lead to revenue loss, and elevate the potential for criminal activities.

Property Damage

Apart from safety issues, homelessness can also cause property damage in retail centers. Actions such as occupying vacant properties, establishing encampments, and committing theft and vandalism can lead to costly repairs and maintenance. Moreover, the proximity to homeless shelters and encampments can have a notable impact on the property value of retail centers, potentially reducing the value by up to 17 percent.

Homelessness-related damage often leads to increased maintenance and repair costs in retail centers. Vacant properties are particularly susceptible to damage by individuals experiencing homelessness, leading to added expenses. These costs can be a significant burden for retail centers, making it even more crucial to find effective strategies to address homelessness.

Negative Customer Experiences

Negative customer experiences can arise from the presence of homeless individuals in retail centers. Incidents of:

  • theft
  • vandalism
  • loitering
  • aggressive behavior
  • verbal altercations

False alarms can lead to customer discomfort and potentially escalate to threats of violence. These negative experiences can deter potential customers, leading to a reduction in foot traffic in retail spaces.

Sales are also affected by the impact on customer experiences. The presence of homelessness can create an unwelcoming environment, driving customers away, and leading to a loss in revenue. Thus, addressing homelessness is not just a matter of social responsibility, but also a business necessity.

Retail Center Management’s Response to Homelessness

In response to these challenges, retail center management is taking proactive measures to mitigate homelessness. These measures include:

  • Implementation of robust security measures
  • Partnerships with local organizations
  • Establishment of policies and procedures aimed at managing and mitigating the effects of homelessness.

Security Measures

Security measures are vital for managing homelessness in retail centers. Retail centers frequently establish and enforce rules of conduct, such as prohibiting loitering, illegal lodging, drinking alcoholic beverages, and drug activities. In addition, they invest in proactive security measures, including hiring security personnel like multiple security guards, to safeguard the center’s assets and minimize financial risks.

One such security measure is VirtuGuard™, which enhances retail center security by providing remote video surveillance and advanced security technology. By enabling real-time monitoring and alerts for suspicious activity, VirtuGuard™ helps prevent crime and safeguard against theft, vandalism, and other security risks. This use of AI technology identifies potential threats and transmits them to live guards for real-time monitoring. The guards then have the capability to take action using the camera’s microphone, trigger an alarm, and engage law enforcement to prevent and address criminal activities in retail centers.

Partnerships with Local Organizations

Forming partnerships with local organizations is another pivotal strategy to tackle homelessness. For example, Starbucks introduced an outreach worker program to assist retail partners and address homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. These partnerships can effectively address homelessness and its associated challenges.

These partnerships address the root causes of homelessness by:

  • Challenging assumptions
  • Stabilizing families in need
  • Bridging the divide to provide necessary services
  • Identifying and addressing factors like poverty, lack of affordable housing, and mental health issues

By addressing these root causes, they can help reduce the incidence of homelessness in retail centers.

Policies and Procedures

The foundation of a retail center’s response to homelessness lies in its policies and procedures. These can include:

  • Training employees to handle homelessness-related issues
  • Supporting member-supported positions on homelessness
  • Providing assistance like food, storage, job training, and health and wellness activities
  • Implementing Housing First approaches to provide permanent housing.

Retail centers can also implement policies such as ‘no sit, no lie’ ordinances, anti-camping restrictions, and anti-food-sharing policies. Additionally, they can design retail spaces with security measures that strike a balance between customer service and safety concerns.

Protocols for interacting with homeless individuals can include:

  • Contacting local law enforcement to safely remove homeless individuals
  • Providing training for security officers in outreach and de-escalation
  • Engaging service provider outreach teams to assess and assist the homeless individuals.

Proactive Approaches to Prevent Homelessness in Retail Centers

Although responding to homelessness is crucial, implementing proactive measures to prevent it from occurring can be more effective. These can include community outreach programs, design solutions, and employee training, all of which can help address the root causes of homelessness and provide support for those in need.

Community Outreach Programs

Community outreach programs can have a substantial impact on addressing homelessness. These programs connect homeless individuals with essential services, raise awareness about homelessness, encourage community involvement, and contribute to the overall well-being and integration of homeless individuals into the community. Effective community outreach methods involve establishing engagement with individuals experiencing homelessness, utilizing available resources and networks, and focusing on providing support for independent living.

Retail centers can support these programs in various ways. For instance, Starbucks has implemented an Outreach Worker Program that actively engages with individuals experiencing homelessness and facilitates their connection to relevant resources. Retail centers can also collaborate with local nonprofits and agencies to extend their support and broaden the impact of their initiatives.

Design Solutions

Implementing design solutions is another way to prevent homelessness in retail centers. Some design features that can deter homeless individuals from occupying the spaces include:

  • Sloping benches
  • Armrests and dividers on benches
  • Spikes or studs on flat surfaces
  • Fenced grates
  • Uneven or uncomfortable surfaces
  • Narrow or segmented seating
  • Lack of shelter or shade
  • High-frequency noise devices
  • Bright lighting
  • Surveillance cameras

By implementing these architectural features, retail centers can create an environment that discourages homelessness.

In addition to these architectural features, retail centers can also deter homeless individuals through landscaping. They can:

  • Keep storage sheds, exterior power outlets, and trash dumpsters locked
  • Maintain trimmed landscapes
  • Restrict access to sidewalk overhangs and alcoves
  • Design outdoor furniture to not be conducive to loitering or sleeping, such as benches with armrests or dividers

By implementing these measures, retail centers can discourage homeless individuals from occupying the space.

Employee Training

Training employees also plays an instrumental role in preventing homelessness in retail centers. Training for retail center staff should encompass handling incidents involving homeless individuals, providing job training and certifications, conducting rapid re-housing workshops, and offering life skills training to support homeless individuals in managing their finances, shopping, cooking, and maintaining social networks. Retail employees should prioritize developing sensitivity, great communication skills, organization skills, numerical, and IT skills.

Recommended best practices for retail staff when engaging with homeless individuals include:

  • Avoiding confrontations
  • Maintaining a safe distance
  • Exercising caution
  • Refraining from offering food

Retail employees can undergo workplace violence E-Learning training and access online video trainings that offer tools and scripts to effectively handle situations involving homeless individuals.

The Role of VirtuGuard™ in Addressing Homelessness in Retail Centers

Although retail centers can employ various strategies to manage and prevent homelessness, security solutions like VirtuGuard™ can be a vital tool in these efforts. By providing enhanced security, real-time monitoring, and customized solutions, VirtuGuard™ can help retail centers effectively address homelessness and maintain a safe and welcoming environment for customers and employees.

Enhanced Security

VirtuGuard™ is characterized by its enhanced security. By utilizing AI to identify subtle movements or open doors that may go unnoticed, and by providing comprehensive training to their video monitoring guards to recognize behavior that could precede criminal activity, VirtuGuard™ provides a proactive approach that enables interventions before crimes take place, leading to a notable enhancement in the safety and security of retail centers.

This enhanced security extends to how VirtuGuard™ interacts with individuals on the property, with the help of onsite security guards. If an individual is not authorized to be on the property, the remote agents have the authority to instruct the individual to leave the premises immediately. If the individual fails to comply, the police or other relevant authorities will be contacted to address the situation. These measures have proven effective in deterring homeless individuals from trespassing and engaging in unwanted behavior.

Real-Time Monitoring

The real-time monitoring provided by VirtuGuard™ has substantial benefits in managing homelessness in retail centers. By accessing live video surveillance streams and recorded camera footage from security cameras installed on the property, VirtuGuard™ enables swift and precise solutions to deter crime and promptly address any questionable behavior or criminal activities captured on video surveillance.

This real-time monitoring provides:

  • 24/7 surveillance
  • Proactive video monitoring
  • Swift detection and response to incidents
  • Precise alarm responses
  • Monitoring of multiple feeds from a control center

This system is a valuable tool in managing homelessness in retail centers, contributing to a secure environment.

Customized Solutions

Alongside enhanced security and real-time monitoring, VirtuGuard™ offers tailored solutions for retail centers. These solutions are adapted to fulfill the specific requirements and specifications of each retail center, ensuring that each center gets the following security solutions that best meet their needs:

  • Access control systems
  • Video surveillance systems
  • Intrusion detection systems
  • Alarm systems
  • Fire detection and suppression systems

These tailored solutions encompass:

  • Security camera monitoring with remote monitoring services for round-the-clock building protection, managed by trained security professionals
  • Access control
  • Video surveillance
  • Security monitoring and alarm systems, including a security system
  • Security services

By offering innovative technology, a tailored approach, and effective security coverage through remote video surveillance and virtual security guard services, VirtuGuard™’s customized solutions contribute to enhancing safety in retail centers.


The impact of homelessness on retail centers is a complex issue, affecting safety, property, and customer experiences. Retail centers can take steps to manage and prevent homelessness, through security measures, partnerships with local organizations, and proactive approaches. However, security solutions like VirtuGuard™ can play a crucial role in this effort, offering enhanced security, real-time monitoring, and customized solutions. By addressing homelessness, retail centers can not only enhance their own operations and profitability, but also contribute to a more inclusive and supportive community.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does homelessness affect local businesses?

Homelessness can negatively affect local businesses by creating a perception of danger and uncleanliness in the area, leading to a decrease in customer traffic and potential property damage. This can ultimately hurt business revenue.

What are the impacts and effects of homelessness?

The impacts of homelessness include strain on society and significant financial costs due to emergency room visits, hospitalizations, police intervention, incarceration, and the use of mental health, poverty, and homeless programs. These costs add up and burden our society.

What is live video surveillance?

Live video surveillance, also known as real-time CCTV, is a remote monitoring technology used to analyze live video streams for security purposes, such as detecting criminal activity or responding to incidents.

What role does VirtuGuard™ play in managing homelessness in retail centers?

VirtuGuard™ plays a vital role in managing homelessness in retail centers by offering enhanced security, real-time monitoring, and tailored solutions to address specific needs.

How can retail centers prevent homelessness?

Retail centers can prevent homelessness by implementing community outreach programs, design solutions, and employee training to address the root causes of homelessness and provide support for those in need. Implementing these measures can play a significant role in addressing and preventing homelessness in the community.



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