Hanging Out Shirts In The Dirty Breeze
September 13, 2005 7:52 PM   Subscribe

NIMBYFilter: The area behind my building faces an industrial and unincorporated area of the town, and homeless folks have begun to move in across the way.

They use my hose to refill their water bottles and they go through my dumpster--I was willing to leave them alone since they've (mostly) respected my requests to close the gate and turn off the water, but the area is beginning to look like a trash dump and smell like a toilet and now I'd prefer they move elsewhere. I suspect mine is a typical pattern--homeless folks move into an area and are ignored/tolerated until the trash and filth become a nuisance, at which point they're asked or forced to leave, and the cycle begins anew.

Is there a polite way of asking them to leave, or should I simply tell them in no uncertain terms they're not welcome to use my facilities and trash the neighborhood? Call and let the police handle them? Write a note asking them to please return the respect the neighborhood gives them? Give them maps to local shelters? I've been respectful, accepting, and tolerant, but my patience is at an end.
posted by fandango_matt to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Do you live in an apartment? House? Warehouse? I'm kind of confused by the fact that you have your own dumpster and live in a "building". Any neighbors? What kind of gate/fence? Sounds like an unusual configuration; knowing the details might be the key to a workable solution.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:12 PM on September 13, 2005

Do you live in an apartment? House? Warehouse? Warehouse/work studio.

I'm kind of confused by the fact that you have your own dumpster and live in a "building". Any neighbors? What kind of gate/fence? "My hose" and "my dumpster" should read my building's hose and dumpster, which is located in an area with a lockable gate, but the neighbors would prefer to leave it unlocked. The hose and spigot are not within the lockable area.

The problem isn't so much their use of the dumpster and water as it is their use of the neighborhood as a trash dump and toilet.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:23 PM on September 13, 2005

i suppose they arent really homeless then
posted by Satapher at 8:57 PM on September 13, 2005

As a resident and not a property owner you're limited in what you can do. First, let your landlord know about the problem: he may institute a gate-locking policy regardless of the other tenants' feelings. He might also, for instance, install a lockable faucet bib, but that would be an expensive way to solve a problem and might not "solve" it.

The police should be called when people are trespassing. They're homeless, but living on the street isn't helping them, and abusing others' property is tipping the scale to hurting others. It's gross, and it's unsanitary too.

If they're camping out on the property of someone else (e.g. a nearby business), make sure that property owner knows as well.

The bottom line is that these are people in need of services, but they may not seek them out on their own. Accept that they've made that choice in life (others may be incompetent to make choices), and that it's a choice that takes away from others -- namely, you and your neighbors. To be blunt, if you don't intervene now, it's just going to get a reputation as a safe place where they can congregate and make the problem worse.

But really, get on the horn. Your landlord, your neighbors, the cops, and the city should all know.
posted by dhartung at 9:01 PM on September 13, 2005

Find out who owns where they're squatting. Point out that in California squatters can own the place after five years of "open and notorious possession" and paying the property taxes, so it's not like it's really going to happen. That threat will probably be enough to spur the owners into pressing the matter themselves.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:23 PM on September 13, 2005

Call the cops and have them moved on. In practice, homeless people are easy to get rid of if you call the cops enough times. Callous, maybe, but if you've dealt with them for long enough their rustic charm wears off.
posted by letterneversent at 10:19 PM on September 13, 2005

My building had similar problems when I moved in last year. However, we started calling the police every time someone camped out on the property, went through the dumpster, or otherwise appropriated the facilities. My building (strata) also gated off the dumpster and hose and disconnected a power outlet people were using to charge their cell phones. Problem solved.
posted by acoutu at 10:58 PM on September 13, 2005

The homeless have cell phones where you live, acoutu? Wow.
posted by item at 12:05 AM on September 14, 2005

Yeah dhartung said it. I wouldn't recommend talking to them about moving on. Really, that's what will need to happen. They have to shit somewhere, after all, and I can't imagine having a civilized conversation with homeless folks about that kind of thing. As nomads, they have to resort to their territorial instincts, and it's not the kind of exchange you want to undertake alone, without training. People spend their entire careers learning how to offer people help successfully. Taking something away is much more difficult and you should probably involve some authorities.

You might also consider seeking the advice of some social service agencies. Chances are it won't be the first time they've heard it and they may have good suggestions all around.
posted by scarabic at 12:05 AM on September 14, 2005

The homeless have cell phones where you live, acoutu? Wow.

Well... don't be so quick to cluck the tongue and call them fancy. Beyond a luxury, a cell phone is probably one's most essential tool in getting some kind of a life back together. Without a cell phone you're just another homless guy. With a cell phone and a paintbrush, you have your own painting business which can blossom via referrals. Magic. You can't have a land line until you have a home. A home is more expensive than a cell phone. Cell phones seem more fancy than land lines, but really, they're the first stop on the way up from rock bottom. If you want to be reachable for odd jobs or day labor, or hearing back about that job interview, you should have one. How the hell do you even apply for a job when you have no way for someone to contact you. Of course, it's also true that people overspend on status symbols and non-essential personal communications.
posted by scarabic at 12:10 AM on September 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Turn off the water to the spigot -- there must be a valve inside somewhere -- and convince the neighbors that the dumpster area must be locked. You might have to make things easy for them by arranging for a lock and keys or whatever it requires. Also, once you lock the place, maybe put on some rubber gloves and clean up the enclosed area to show the neighbors how nice it can be if you try.

If your building becomes just a little less inviting, people will move to a place that is just a little more inviting. The spigot could be the make-or-break item for people with no other source of clean water.
posted by pracowity at 2:37 AM on September 14, 2005

Can you remove the handle to the spigot? Usually they just unscrew and then you can put it back on when you want to use it.

The pumps don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:42 AM on September 14, 2005

Yes, some homeless people have cell phones. If you can acquire a Pay & Talk-style phone, you just need to come up with $10 for a phone card. If you can find somewhere to charge your phone, you're set. Although homeless people are without homes, they are not necessarily without jobs or other obligations. (Some people just can't handle the curfews, drug bans, or atmosphere of SROs and shelters.) I don't think it's a status thing. It's more of a keeping your life together thing,as scarabaric noted. I used to work at a food bank and it wasn't uncommon for some homeless and street people to have cell phones. However, I do believe that they are in the minority.
posted by acoutu at 9:46 AM on September 14, 2005

vote for more funding for shelters and social programs in your neighbourhood? work to subvert capitalism? notice how large corporations are messing up your whole city on a far greater order of magnitude than the homeless are messing up your building's backyard? fund or sponsor, together with residents, an outhouse in the area? get over yourself and work to establish a more formal pragmatic relationship with people who are now part of your community, rather than have them moved along because it's easy to do so given that you have money and they don't?

and all this "homelessness is a choice" bullshit is really pissing me off. sorry. of all the homeless and formerly homeless people i've known (not a whole lot, admittedly, but more, i'm guessing, than a lot of people responding), none of them ever wax nostalgic about living on the streets. poverty - real poverty, not "i'm an anguished falafel-eating student" poverty - isn't much more of a choice than cancer is.

sorry. but in this day and age? seriously. we're talking about people here, not rodents.
posted by poweredbybeard at 1:39 PM on September 14, 2005

poweredbybeard, please send me your address. I'll arrange for these folks to move into your community since you're clearly willing to let people use your backyard as a toilet and trash dump.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:23 PM on September 14, 2005

If you have people going through your dumpster, you'll want to be careful about throwing out personal documents that can be used for ID theft.

From my window, I have a view of a neighbouring building's dumpster, which gets about 20 or so binners an hour going through it (a normal number for downtown Vancouver). Some of these binners go through the bags looking for bills, discarded mail, that sort of thing, which they cart off with them. Apparently there are middlemen who buy that kind of stuff.

I black out every piece of ID (address on envelopes, debit card numbers on grocery recepits, etc.) and shred every document I throw out.

Where possible, I also get bills electronically rather than through the mail. Where's there's binners, there's often mailbox theft.
posted by showmethecalvino at 2:23 PM on September 14, 2005

Are there dumpsters and public toilets nearby you could direct them to? Y'know, talk to a couple or put up a sign along the lines of "Hey dude, it's cool if you want to live back there, but ya gotta keep it clean or I'm going to have to call the cops."
posted by schroedinger at 11:32 PM on September 14, 2005

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