Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Homeless Encampments

The table below summarizes the responses to homeless encampments, the mechanisms by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
General Principles for an Effective Strategy
1Enlisting community support to address the problemInvolving stakeholders early on increases likelihood of support for responses and reduces risk of lawsuits...there is consensus about how to define the problem and the possible solutionsSome advocacy groups are unreceptive to other views and may attempt to derail your efforts
2Educating the community about homelessnessMakes people's expectations of what police can do more realistic; reduces "NIMBY" response...there is a tradition of civic engagement in the communitySome citizens may resist learning about the causes of and effective responses to chronic homelessness if these ideas are contrary to their moral values
3Educating police officers about homelessnessImproves interaction between police officers and homeless people...the training leads to changes in attitudes and beliefs about the chronically homelessSome officers resent "sensitivity" training
4Helping with your community's long-range homelessness planEnsures that police interests are included in the plan...stakeholders involved in the plan are receptive to input from policeSome stakeholders are hostile to the police and do not view them as allies
Providing Alternatives to Homeless Encampments
5Promoting the "Housing First" modelPuts hard-to-place chronically homeless people into housing immediately...the infrastructure exists in your communityFinding locations for these housing facilities can be difficult in some communities
6Lobbying for more resources for mental health and substance abuse treatmentIncreases treatment options for those who need themthis treatment is provided in conjunction with housingCitizens resent paying taxes to help people with substance abuse problems and mental illness
7Regulating structured camping facilitiesCreates an area for transients to camp safely...a suitable location can be found that meets community needsThe facility may be located on undesirable land far from services transients need
Changing the Physical Environment
8Clear-cutting of overgrown brushRemoves privacy for transients and barriers to encampment detection; assists natural surveillance...vegetation is not allowed to grow back to previous levelsClearing only small areas at a time may displace transients to nearby spots to set up new encampments
9Deploying water sprinklersMakes the encampment area wet and the ground less desirable to sit or lie onsprinklers are set to go off at random times to increase unpredictabilityLegitimate users of the space, such as picnickers and sunbathers, may be annoyed
10Encouraging private property owners to secure vacant lots and buildingsAccess to potential sites for transient encampments is blocked...measures used to secure the space are checked regularly to ensure they have not been compromisedIf encampments are established in areas with limited access, it will be harder for the police to find them
11Removing or altering street furnitureReduces the number of places to comfortably sit or lie down in public...alterations will not cause physical injuryLegitimate users may object to the loss of streetscape amenities
Restricting Access to Goods and Services that Promote Encampments
12Restricting public feeding of transientsPrevents gathering of transients...the health department provides supportFood providers may view restrictions as harsh and uncaring
13Diverting donations from the publicReduces funds available to support encampment lifestyle...there is a mechanism to permanently block drop-off sites near encampmentsSome people will think the response is harsh and uncaring
Reducing Negative Impacts of "Routine Activities" of the Chronically Homeless
14Installing more public toiletsFacilitates compliance with community standards on personal hygiene...low-cost models are used at the beginningToilets can become havens for criminals
15Opening a day resource centerPuts transients in direct contact with service providers in one location...use of facility amenities is tied in with program participationNearby residents and businesses may work to block location of the facility in their neighborhood
16Working with land use enforcement officersSets rules about what activities and uses are permitted; encourages place management by property owner...transients are encamped on private propertyFining property owners may not directly affect the transients encamped on the property
17Cleaning up camp sitesDenies benefits of encampment by removing personal property and amenities...done in conjunction with legal measures to remove transientsThis may not work if measures are not taken to prevent the reestablishment of the encampment
18Shutting down homeless encampmentsLong-term denial of benefits for transients by removing their personal property...there is extensive planning before the intervention and multi-agency cooperation for implementation and follow-upDisplacement of transients to other encampments is likely unless they are provided with more desirable shelter alternatives
19Retrieving shopping cartsRemoves facilitator of transient lifestyle...there is an ordinance in place making stores responsible for retrieval or containment of cartsLocal grocery stores may lack resources to prevent theft of carts or collect them regularly
Improving Police Interactions With Transients
20Developing a departmental policySets standards for contacts with homeless people...the policies and procedures support the departmental mission and values of the department and the communityHomeless advocates may scrutinize the policy and its implementation
21Creating a specialized unitEnsures rapid identification of homeless people in need of help...police work together with social service providers to access services for homelessHomeless advocates may view police involvement unfavorably
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
22Enforcing "sidewalk behavior" ordinancesRestores orderliness to public spaces and discourages unwanted behaviors...ordinances can be written so they do not violate constitutional protectionsIn addition to potential legal challenges, these ordinances can reinforce undesired activity by rewarding the offender with a warm bed and food
23Enforcing ordinances against panhandlingIncreases the effort required by panhandlers to make money...there is a large overlap between panhandlers and transients in your community; ordinances do not violate constitutionally protected freedomsMost people who live in transient encampments are not panhandlers
24Doing "bum" sweepsTemporarily removes transients from public spaces...if done in conjunction with other strategiesIn addition to creating an adversarial relationship with the homeless and their advocates, there is no evidence that it works
25Creating safe zonesIsolates transients in an area where their behaviors will disturb fewer people...services to transition out of chronic homelessness are accessible in the safe zoneIndustrial zone locations cut off transients from needed services; increased services may attract new homeless people to the area
26Increasing the capacity of local sheltersProvides alternatives to encampment living...there is an actual demand for shelter services among the transient populationTransients find shelters less desirable than encampments, and some transients would be denied entry to shelters