None of this really bothered me until they set out the poop bucket
August 26, 2009 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Sort of homeless/drunk dudes have set up camp on my street! Please read all of this before dismissing me as an unfeeling NIMBY!!

Part of the street I live on is the back of a supermarket. There are some trees there and a strip of grass that slopes down from the back of the building to the sidewalk. Every once in a while a group will congregate there and drink beer and take naps. I know it’s beer because they leave the cans. Once, my neighbor saw someone getting a blow job but that’s about as wild as it gets. In the last few months, though, a group of sort of homeless guys has set up full on camp there. I call them sort of homeless because they keep bringing broken down vehicles with which they leave parked on the street right in front of the grassy hill they hang out on.

This taking up of permanent residence all started when a trashed camper trailer showing up. Sort of like this, but really dilapidated. The windows were covered in cardboard and the door was sort of taped on. It wasn’t attached to a car; it just rested on its hitch. The guys were living in it and they posted an almost incoherent note on the door asking for the police not to tow it because it was having mechanical problems. None of this really bothered me until they set out the poop bucket. They ran a plastic hose from the sewage tank into a big bucket outside. Waste just dripped into the bucket and the flies swarmed around it. You could smell it down the block. Then the visits started. People who appeared strung out began coming and going at all times of day. I used to live on a street a local newspaper once referred to as a “crack bazaar”, I know what crack heads look like; these were crack heads.

Eventually a neighbor called the abandoned vehicle number to report it, and not to long after the trailer disappeared. The guys also have an inoperable van they park on the street. On Street sweeping days they get another guy to push it with his car and they steer it to the other side. I guess that’s sort of amazing.

After the trailer left, the van stayed but I didn’t see the guys for a few days. Well, a new vehicle has shown up. It’s an old delivery truck with a door, like an ice cream truck. It is also a wicked mess. So now they live in there at night and get drunk on the grass during the day. The problem I see here is that more and more of their friends show up every day. Some of them bring their carts of cans and things and they leave them on the sidewalk while they go do other stuff. I recognize a few of them from having seen them in other parts of the neighborhood. Most of these guys are alcoholics. Whenever I have seen them in other parts of the neighborhood they are drinking on the street. Now that I see them every morning I can confirm that they start the day with a shared jug of tequila. They usually start drinking at 6 am then pass out on the grass until the early evening. They leave a really bad mess and they pee everywhere. I’m not joking; I have seen them peeing everywhere.

Here’s the thing, I don’t know what to do, or what I CAN do. I mean, it’s really just not cool for there to be a camp setting up on the street right there. There have been days where you can’t walk down that side of the street in the middle of the day because there are guys passed out on the sidewalk. My neighbors have called the cops and they never show up. Do we just keep calling the cops? Is there some other organization I can call? These guys aren’t panhandling, I don’t think they are looking for social services, I think they just want a place to park their broken down vehicles and get drunk all day and pee on the walls. I don’t want to be that uptight asshole harassing the homeless when they should be helping them, but I think this is a different type of situation, right? If it makes a difference this is in Los Angeles. Oh and I did look at this post, but it seemed like exactly the same situation.
posted by missmle to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a good thing to call your local representative about. If you feel comfortable taking photos, do so and email them to your city councilman. Do not feel bad about not wanting to live across from something like this.

(I live in L.A. as well and suspected that you did before I got to that portion of the question).
posted by Bookhouse at 12:20 PM on August 26, 2009

Are they technically on the supermarket's property?

It might make sense to approach the manager of the supermarket to see if they are going to do something about the situation. Having a business which contributes property and sales taxes to the city make complaints might have a little more impact if you and other neighbors also complain.

Also, have you called the local police station to see what legally CAN be done? They should be able to clarify what is legal and not legal in terms of loitering / public nuisance, etc.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:23 PM on August 26, 2009

Do you know whose property they've set up camp on?
posted by bunny hugger at 12:24 PM on August 26, 2009

Start by asking them nicely to stop doing the things that are bothering you. Document everything. I'd search the L.A. County database to find out who owns the lot. Then write a letter to them asking that they remove the nuisance (a specific legal term) which has grown up on their property. The letter should be formal and look it.

When you call your local rep, tell them the name of the actual property owner too. Best to get those persons involved.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:24 PM on August 26, 2009

you're entitled to persue any legal avenue open to you.

however, to speak to two parts of your question - Please read all of this before dismissing me as an unfeeling NIMBY!! and I don’t want to be that uptight asshole harassing the homeless when they should be helping them, but I think this is a different type of situation, right?

i don't know if your view of the homeless is that they are always guys that hit a bit of hard luck and just need one good social servant to get them on their way again or what - but what you're describing is very common among the homeless. you can probably get them kicked out of that area with enough effort, but they're just going to go somewhere else behind someone else's house and then we'll get another NIMBY question. this isn't a different type of situation.
posted by nadawi at 12:30 PM on August 26, 2009

Eventually a neighbor called the abandoned vehicle number to report it, and not to long after the trailer disappeared.

You should do the same for that van and delivery truck or any other other vehicles that show up. You also might want to take this up with the owner/management at the supermarket if at all possible. Keep on calling the cops and depending on how comfortable you are with your neighbours, ask them to do the same.

Not sure how or if your local department of social services can help, but it can't hurt to try. Here's the link to their website. Do you have a landlord or is it your building?

dhartung offers some great advice in the other thread you referred to. You haven't said whether or not you have approached this guys and I have to say, I wouldn't blame you a bit if you don't want to confront them about this.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:31 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Find out what community social services organizations help homeless people in your area and call them. You might want to start here or here..
posted by mareli at 12:33 PM on August 26, 2009

That department of social services link above is the welfare department, they don't do homeless services. You want homeless services outreach:

LAHSA Emergency Response Teams

If there are homeless people in your community or neighborhood who need assistance or are living in encampments, or if you or someone you know of is homeless and needs assistance, please contact us at:

Hotline number
(213) 225-6571

posted by The Straightener at 12:39 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're not an uptight asshole, and these aren't typical homeless people -- there is no typical homeless person. Some are temporary, some are chronic, some are addicts, some are mentally unstable, some are people that had tragic things happen to them for no reason, some are people who invited tragedy into their lives.

It's perfectly acceptable to say "not in my back yard" when people are dealing crack, passing out in the street drunk, and shitting and peeing everywhere.

Find out who owns the property they're using, and communicate with your local government. Use pictures, be professional.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:42 PM on August 26, 2009 [10 favorites]

My office is located next to a huge RV encampment of homeless people, formerly a large tent encampment of homeless people. Generally the Venice cops come through and roust them every six months or so, more often if my office's facilities people call and harrass the police into coming down.

However, note my "every six months or so;" they either return in a couple of weeks, or new homeless people appear to replace them now that the street's empty again, just as nadawi says. Straightener's the expert here; call LAHSA and get them to come talk to the encampment, get them into the system, and work on it from there.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:47 PM on August 26, 2009

We have a similar situation in our neighborhood, right across the street from our house. No vehicles or poop buckets, but many of the other elements you describe—the homeless congregating there for all-day drinking, loitering, passing out, and pissing all over the place.

I would not approach them. Instead, we document it, discreetly take pictures when necessary, and call the police every time we see it happening. Every time. Initially I felt really weird and awkward for calling so much, like I had become the neighborhood asshole always peering out their window looking for something to be pissed off about. But it did work, and in a recent neighborhood meeting, the cops told us that they want us to keep calling, since the more we report such incidents, the more they monitor the area and the faster their response time becomes.

It helped that a number of families with young children have recently moved into my neighborhood and took this very much to heart—we've seen a noticeable drop in this kind of activity over the past year, so do try to connect with your neighbors about these problems if you can.
posted by anderjen at 12:48 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Note, all an outreach team is going to do is go out and talk to these guys and see if they want services or to go to a shelter. The likelihood is that they will not, because if they did they would probably be in a shelter and not in a van in your backyard. Once you've exhausted this option go to your local police precinct and discuss what to do next with an officer on desk duty. You don't have to live with a clan of hobos pissing all over your block, and it's not your responsibility to get them into social services, which, if they don't want them, can't be forced on them anyway. People used to call me with stuff like this all the time. Talk to the police and don't feel guilty about protecting your space. They'll get offered social services the next time they land in detox, or the psych unit, the emergency room or in court and maybe at that point they will engage in them, maybe they won't. Or maybe the time after, or maybe not. That's how this stuff goes.
posted by The Straightener at 12:53 PM on August 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

p.s. nthing don't approach them at all.
posted by bunny hugger at 1:00 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please don't march up to them, inform them of all the things that are bothering you and ask them to stop. They are crackheads shitting in a bucket, I don't see how any civilized discourse will result from you airing your grievances to their faces.
posted by jerseygirl at 1:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

Friends live in Venice Beach and they have seen the number of people living in cars and in trailers increase over the past year due to the economy.

Venice Beach grapples with homelessness controversy.

Venice Residents Sue California Coastal Commission Over Denial of Parking Restrictions.

You're not alone.
posted by ericb at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2009

If your neighborhood has a homeowners' association, you might want to talk with them. They get a lot of grief (rightfully so) about coming down hard on people for, say, painting their house a certain color. But, that power can be useful in situations like this.

The supermarket owner could not be thrilled about this, either. I assume the supermarket takes delivery of their groceries at the back of their store, so broken down vehicles, crackheads, and poop buckets are affecting their means of obtaining goods. I'd talk with them to find out what they have done so far, and what their plans are going forward.

Nthing everyone else who advises against approaching them directly. I think that would be unproductive and unsafe.
posted by Houstonian at 1:13 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thank god I don't poop. Myself, I'd give them a bottle of bleach or something and a heavy duty plastic trash bag to cover their bucket, and say, "guys, you're creating a problem, and it's not going to work out here if you don't take it down a notch."

Use your best judgment, I may have just been lucky with a higher class of street people. Very few actual crackheads on my block, but not unheard of. Have someone a bit more physically intimidating do the talking if you're afraid of them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:30 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

it's not that they may be afraid of them, stickycarpet, it's just that the op is relatively powerless when it comes to transmitting the message. the straightener seems to have the most experience and common sense advice.
posted by Think_Long at 1:52 PM on August 26, 2009

I'm over in the Valley and we have this problem in my area just down the street. No poop buckets, thankfully. But we do have a crapload of day labourers on the corner who drink, smoke weed and get into fights there. When things get out of hand, we usually just call the cops. They've gotten a little more civilized over the years, but there are still incidents. Approaching them can be useless and put you in unnecessary physical harm.

Keep calling the cops and, if you can, get the neighbors together to help as suggested above. If you get everyone together, pick one person to deal with the cops. Everyone reports anything untoward to that person and they follow up. This doesn't mean someone can't call the cops when something happens. But it does make it more organized (and more pleasant) for them to deal with. Also, don't get frustrated if the cops seem unresponsive. With the staff cuts, it's not unusual for them to call before they arrive to make sure you still want them to come out. Make sure that they do.

And before anyone jumps on me for mentioning day labourers specifically, I myself am hispanic and perfectly fine with them. What I'm not fine with is this kind of thing happening.
posted by arishaun at 2:11 PM on August 26, 2009

Find out who the senior lead officers are for your community. and do keep calling. At a neighborhood association meeting, we found out that due to our neighborhood being relatively low (reported) crime, cars were pulled off our beats and sent to other areas. Meanwhile, a friend of ours was mugged at our streetcorner, but never reported it.

Also try talking to your local neighborhood council (which is generally made up of reps from the local neighborhood associations).
posted by mogget at 2:18 PM on August 26, 2009

You need to start documenting this for the city's code enforcement folks. If you don't get traction there the next stop is the folks that code enforcement report to know about your well documented efforts to get them to resolve the issue.

The owners of the property will have to secure the property or the city can levy fines and liens on the property. Code enforcement will usually engage the city law enforcement when needed. But I'd start going after making sure whomever is responsible for the property is adhering to the city municipal codes.
posted by iamabot at 2:51 PM on August 26, 2009

Take pictures and talk to both the police and local government. Anytime they are loud, or doing something that shouldn't be in public, call the police. Every time.

Also, talk to th Supermarket and your neighbors. Get them to call as well. Don't approach them yourself, let the cops handle it
posted by spaltavian at 3:07 PM on August 26, 2009

All of the above suggestions seem very reasonable. If they don't work.... post an ad in the/some college paper(s) for "visual art show/urban studies spectacular at such and such address on these dates (limit viewings to very specific/restrictive times)
Maybe a few college students milling about researching real urban poverty on display will help?
posted by boatsforshoes at 11:21 PM on August 26, 2009

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