How to get rid of drug dealers?
October 26, 2019 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Some drug dealers have moved into a tent across the street from our local public library. This coincides with a sharp uptick in drug ODs in the neighborhood (I recently called the police twice in 1 day for ODs; one of the people was already dead.) I am certain the tent is not a legitimate homeless encampment, but rather a station for drug dealing, based on what I've seen and how it's set up. What tactics are there for me to get the city to pay attention and get rid of the tent? I realize that in this day and age I can't stop drug dealing or the opiod OD epidemic single handedly, but I would like it to be at least not across the street from a library that needs to stay safe for kids and everyone else.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It would be helpful to know what city you are in. If you are comfortable sharing that, you can message it to the mods and they can post it for you. Answers to your question could be very different for San Francisco, CA versus Lowell, MA.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:14 PM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you seen the drug dealers brandish any weapons? In my experience, the police are much more likely to take an interest in a situation if there is some violence -- or even the threat of violence -- associated with it.
posted by alex1965 at 6:15 PM on October 26, 2019

A bunch of folks will likely jump in with some negative reactions here, and I don't want you to feel attacked: Your concern is real and understandable. We all want our neighborhoods to feel safe and welcoming.

But know that there are a lot of stereotypes and misinformation about drug use, drug selling and chronic homelessness. I say with respect: it behooves you to some reading on the issues of chronic homelessness and substance use.

For example, your city probably conducts a biannual "homeless point in time count". Try googling that term along with the name of your city to find the results. This study should produce data about who the homeless folks are in your community.

Likewise, who are "drug dealers"? Well, many people who use drugs end up selling them, and many people who sell drugs end up using them. As you've seen directly - opiate addiction in particular is a huge problem that lacks quick or easy solutions.

When I read your question, I have my own questions: what is a 'legitimate' homeless encampment? In my experience working as a nurse case manager for homeless patients, lots of people who are homeless or marginally housed spend some time staying on couches with family or friends, some time sleeping outside. They might get a hotel for a while or sleep in a car sometimes. THere is not always a bright line between who is 'homeless' and who is not. There's also not a bright line defining who is a 'drug dealer' that differentiates that person from, for example, an opiate dependent person who is immersed in an economic and social circumstance where selling drugs is their only possible income.

Now what to do about the encampment? Surely if you succeed in moving the encampment, it will go somewhere else: to someone else's neighborhood, near someone else's kids. Honestly, I hate seeing encampments - they are disturbing, often dirty, usually unsafe. No one feels comfortable witnessing human suffering like this. But I don't know of any kind of program that moves encampments that actually keeps people safer - any encampment clearance simply moves it elsewhere

Having said ALL that, there is a study that indicates that by sprucing up a lot or space that has become a center of violence and crime, the crime rate in that area decreases.

You can probably guess where I"m going here: I personally think encampment removals are at best a band aid that simply moves the 'problem' to someone else's front door, at worst an abuse of human rights. But there is some evidence that neighborhood cleanup can change the dynamic. So maybe you can find a group of neighbors (at the library?) who want to beautify the block with you. Do weekly trash pickups. Plant a garden. Perhaps approach some of the folks hanging out at the tent encampment to help when you see them.

It's not an easy or quick solution, but I propose an easy and quick solution to substance dependency, poverty, violence and housing insecurity does not exist. We need a huge influx of funding for subsidized housing and substance treatment (not to mention rec programs, healthcare, schools, etc). The real 'solution' is we all vote to pay more taxes to take care of the neediest among us. But for now, maybe you can help turn things around in the neighborhood.
posted by latkes at 6:36 PM on October 26, 2019 [54 favorites]

In my experience, the police are much more likely to take an interest in a situation if there is some violence -- or even the threat of violence -- associated with it.

This is a really great way to proceed if you want those kids to see someone murdered by the cops.

OP, you've been through a legitimately traumatic experience with the ODs, and I understand the desire to spare the community's children. But homeless people are often drawn to libraries as one of the few places they can even exist in public without facing state or informal violence. It's much more likely that you're seeing homeless people dealing incidentally than that actual hard-core dealers have...decided to move into a tent in full view of the civic infrastructure. And that means it's very hard to do anything direct (as opposed to the neighborhood-building activities that latkes proposes) that doesn't bring the full force of the state down on people whose main offense is for whatever reason not being able to earn a capitalist living.

But this also means that there is not actually much of a heightened risk of violent crime in the vicinity of the camp. The people most likely to be hurt or die there are the homeless, and mostly from the drugs. Whatever state action you might invoke is going to be hideously disproportionate, even if they don't kill anybody. People who already have nothing often lose whatever little they have; other people get cycled through the incarceration system. It's a shitty consequence of how we've chosen to allow the state to engage in social control. If you're feeling powerless after finding someone dead--which must have been horrible for you--if you feel the need to take action (again, beyond the longer-term solutions that are the only thing that are going to help rather than just push people around), I would suggest two things: (a) carrying Narcan (in almost any large city, there is a group that will give it to you and train you in its use) and (b) working on keeping the area clean--sharps are the biggest health threat to local kids.
posted by praemunire at 6:59 PM on October 26, 2019 [31 favorites]

[The OP is interested in getting rid of the encampment; I think these two answers have adequately explained why that might not be the best route to take, and further answers should focus more closely on the question as asked.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:09 PM on October 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

To the excellent commentary you've received here, I would add talk to the librarians. It is likely they are aware of the encampment, might even know the people who live there, and have thought a lot about the safety and well being of everyone involved--patrons, homeless, children, etc. They might not have the answers, and some of them might be frustrated and/or unsympathetic (either to the homeless or to the desire to get rid of them, it depends), but I can guarantee they've spent some time thinking about it and might have some useful insights for you.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:13 PM on October 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

DEFINITELY talk to the library director. And is there a safe-injection activist group in your town? They might also have some great ideas for keeping everyone safe.
posted by lazuli at 8:18 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

I know in my town, and I think it is a state law, drugs and weapons in a school zone is a big deal as far as the law is concerned. In some instances, this is also true for libraries. In NY, some public libraries are actually part of the school district.

Have you tried contacting the police to discuss it? They may have some insight as to what they can or will do. Also in my town, the children are in school moat of the day (natch) and they frequent the library from around 2:30 until say dinner or 5:00 or 5:30. Perhaps the police will agree to do more frequent patrolling during those 3 hours and on Saturdays.
posted by AugustWest at 12:03 AM on October 27, 2019

You contact the police, regularly.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:28 AM on October 27, 2019 [8 favorites]

Who does the property belong to? If it is privately owned reaching out to the owner may help.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:48 AM on October 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

We had (still do?) a similar problem here in Philadelphia. No one pitched a tent, but we had a drug bizarre running around the library. We were getting folks from the burbs coming in to purchase and OD'ing on the lawn of one of our libraries. Naturally this upset the library staff. It wasn't a good time.
Perhaps you could call them and ask how they are dealing/delt with their problem? You could also search back issues of the Philadelphia Inquire to see if you get any insight.

Good luck.
posted by james33 at 6:41 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

If the police aren't doing anything, call the news. TV news will be more effective. "Hey, people are dying and the police won't do anything about it" makes dor good headlines.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:55 AM on October 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

You are in a town or city and you have elected officials. Start calling them, frequently. Talk to the library. Talk to any homeless service providers/ social work agencies. Your best role is to goad these folks into action. It's not a simple problem, it won't have a simple answer, there are professionals in your community who need to be prioritizing this. A homeless/ drug abuser encampment certainly deserves sympathy, but it also generates trash, human waste and petty crime.

Drop off food when you can, socks, mittens, hats, etc., maybe blankets or sleeping bags; thrift shops have them in quantity. You can have empathy and also want to protect your community, try to find a balance.
posted by theora55 at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2019

The points made upthread are all valid, but when OP said "legitimate homeless encampment" I took them to be describing something I've encountered in places I have lived: a place that functions as most businesses do, with no one living on-premises, with the people running the business commuting in and then leaving when business is done for the day, not sleeping or staying there. An encampment that's zoned for business rather than zoned residential, as it were. These do exist, and they exist for different types of business, not just dealing: sometimes they're places for people to organize or to access street medicine or other services, sometimes they're social spaces where people don't (usually) sleep or stay, sometimes they're places to transact other forms of business (bartering/buying/selling goods, etc). Sometimes residential encampments spring up around them if they're established long enough, but not always.

If it's this type of encampment, housing-oriented outreach may not be helpful -- the people running the business may be housed, and regardless, outreach is unlikely to offer them an alternate place to run transactions; they may come by if you contact them, OP, and they might have ideas, but they might not. I *would not* suggest that OP go over themselves for outreach if activity seems strictly limited to selling and using drugs; it seems unlikely to me that such a visit will be taken kindly.

Depending on the jurisdiction, calling the police might result, best-case, in the police hanging up, taking your call but declining to visit, or possibly going over to issue a ticket for an unauthorised structure or something. Worst-case, though, they show up and someone gets hurt or killed. Either way, it is not likely to help with your problem, and they're probably not actually going to "get rid of the tent," so I would only suggest contacting them in cases where there seems to be an imminent threat of bodily harm or violence that is actually unfolding -- if the consequence of not involving police is definitely going to be worse for the people directly involved. Where that line gets drawn will, unfortunately, vary depending upon how the police are where you live, OP. The good news, though, is that (at least in my experience) there's not much need to worry about safety from violence. Things might sometimes feel uncomfortable or unpleasant -- even deeply uncomfortable or deeply unpleasant, and that can feel very frightening, but it's probably not going to become unsafe. When drug-related violence happens, it doesn't seem to happen much at the street-dealing level.

The most important threats to safety, for library patrons and neighbours and everyone else, will be people overdosing and needle trash. Carrying naloxone is good if you're able to administer it and comfortable doing so; if you're not, that's okay, and calling when you suspect an OD is still good. Though housing-oriented outreach groups might not be helpful, safe-injection outreach groups might be, so if those exist where you are, OP, contact them! They won't be able to discourage the dealing, and might not be inclined to try, so this still won't "get rid of the tent." But they might be able to help direct people using drugs to safer places, which would be good for everyone involved, not just the people using. It helps the library staff, because they don't have to worry about people ODing in the bathroom or in out-of-the-way corners where they can't be helped in time and can use their time and energy on other things, and it helps the library patrons, because they will be able to keep accessing the public restrooms. It also helps reduce the likelihood of people encountering unsafely-discarded needles in and around the library.

Speaking of needles: those are a problem. If your library doesn't already have them, push for the library to get safe sharps disposal containers so staff don't have to deal with handling them. Check to see if your town has a number you can call for safe needle disposal, and program it into your phone so you can call/text if you encounter needles when you're out and about. Needles are not necessarily super-dangerous, but they can be, and the protocol for accidental needle-sticks is both unpleasant and expensive (speaking from experience here). So be vigilant about that, and be careful if you've got kids or pets with you when you're in areas where people seem to be using regularly.
posted by halation at 1:20 PM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

See if it's possible to get a Naloxone / Narcan nasal spray kit where you are. It's a quick mist that you squirt up someone's nose, and if they are overdosing, it will halt the OD by about 20 minutes. That's enough time to call 911 and get them to the hospital. If you administer it to a person who isn't ODing, naloxone is harmless (although it will erase their euphoria if they are using opiates at that moment).

In Toronto and Vancouver these little kits are about the size of a banana so they're easy to keep in your desk / glove box / backpack, and are free at some drugstores.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:07 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

My city has a website to report illegal camps; an alternative to that is calling police non-emergency. We call it just about weekly as we live adjacent to a drug house and customers like to camp out on our corner, leaving their trash everywhere, including needles. My neighborhood library recently had a sharps disposal can installed in the parking lot; we need a lot more.
posted by medeine at 1:25 PM on October 28, 2019

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