I’m afraid of the homeless people sleeping in front of my office

A reader writes:

Do you have any suggestions on how I can ask my employer to handle homeless people who are constantly blocking access to my workplace entrance? My home office (the powers that be) is 400 miles away and not on site. I am a female employee and am terrified when a homeless person has set up a camp outside in front of my office front door and I am the first person that arrives at the office or if I’m the last person to leave in the dark (I don’t know if these homeless people are still asleep, violent, etc. and am not trained in martial arts or law enforcement nor do I carry pepper spray, etc). I can’t start my work day until I unlock the door and unalarm the building to get to my desk, but I have so much work to do that I really need this issue to be resolved. I still need to work from 7-6 so I can’t change my schedule to coincide with daylight hours.

We’ve called the police on the homeless people many times (sometimes before work, during normal business hours or after hours depending on the situation) but if I’m the first person to arrive or the last person to leave and I am alone, my personal safety may be compromised, my productivity diminishes, etc. Plus sometimes if I’m on my way out the door and notice a new one camped out, I can’t hang around to wait for the cops because I have kids to pick up, appointments, etc. and am not getting paid for any of this time to hang around. Is there anything my employer should be doing to handle this situation? How do I address this?

Why are you terrified?

I can understand being unsettled, but not terrified, by strangers loitering near your building, especially if you’re leaving after dark and there aren’t many other people around. But that’s about them being strangers who are loitering, not about them being homeless.

Being homeless does not make someone violent or threatening or scary. If the particular people you’re encountering are threatening in some way, that’s absolutely an issue. But nothing here indicates that’s the case, or that you have any need for terror, or martial arts training, or to contemplate not leaving your office until police arrive (or to call the police at all). It made me sad to read that you felt that way, and I think it’s worth stepping back and thinking about where that’s coming from.

Anyway, to get you some practical advice, I called in my friend Sarah, who works with homeless people every day.

Here’s what she said in reply:

1. Homelessness does not make people violent, and she shouldn’t fear them any more than she fears other people in general as a woman going to and from work alone. These people are there because they have nowhere to go, not because they are trying to be a nuisance.

2. Calling the police isn’t a solution. Although public camping is now illegal in some cities, mostly the police will just tell homeless people to move along. And this pulls police officers and resources away from where they may be needed more. Some big cities have designated homeless outreach police who can be more helpful in connecting the homeless to actual resources, shelters, etc. She could ask about this.

3. Is it generally the same people who are there repeatedly? Especially in bigger cities, she may want to contact some nonprofits who work with the homeless and ask they have a homeless outreach teach team, and if so, whether it would be possible for them to outreach the folks camped in front of her office, maybe help them find a place to stay or a day shelter.

4. Perhaps the entryway to this woman’s office is not well-lit? If it isn’t, that is something her company may be able to remedy, and a brightly lit entryway could possibly discourage people from sleeping and resting there. It is difficult to advise the OP when there are so many unknowns, including where she is geographically.

So there are some practical ideas for you, letter-writer. I hope that helps — but I also hope you’ll try to reframe your thinking about the people in your community who have nowhere to go.

{ 567 comments… read them below }

  1. Sam*

    I had a situation like this once when I was younger. I started saying hello to them, and occasionally buying an extra coffee or two. I got to know them as people, and I felt very safe when they all knew my name and always said hello to me.

    1. JMegan*

      That’s a good point. The more the OP gets to know the people outside her door – and the more they get to know her – the safer she will be.

      1. fposte*

        And not just safe *from* them–she may be more safe *because* of them, as you generally tend to be when you’re among people who know you and where you’re going.

        1. Sam*

          I felt much safer in a relatively dangerous city, because I have people who knew me and who I felt like kept me safe. Seriously, befriend these people.

        2. JMegan*

          Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. Make them part of your community, if they’re open to it. You don’t need to be BFF’s with anybody, but generally, the more people who know you, the safer you’ll be.

        3. Corporate Attorney*

          There’s a lot of truth to this. There’s a panhandler that always sits near a transit station in my town and he’s such a fixture that every tends to say hello to him, people bring him coffee, etc. That’s been his spot for years. About a year ago, I saw him literally leap from his seat and tackle a mugger that was trying to get away after robbing a commuter. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest – it was a serious hero moment. I can’t know, obviously, but I think that the fact that he felt like part of our little community of commuters is probably part of why he was willing to take that risk.

          1. Clinical Social Worker*

            So touching! Thank you for sharing that. People always poo poo me giving money or food to panhandlers. No more! I’m helping a hero in the making.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      I sometimes used to find homeless people sleeping on the step outside the door of my old apartment building. I’d always apologise for asking them to move so I could get in or out, and they’d apologise for being there. I did bring one guy a cup of tea and a granola bar once on a very cold morning. It just wasn’t a problem – in fact it was better than the times I’d come home from work and find the stoners from the head shop next door sitting smoking on the same step. (They were super nice kids, and were never offended when I declined their repeated offers of a quick toke, but it would take them a looooooong time to get organised enough to get themselves and their bongo drums out of my way. That was an interesting neighbourhood!)

    3. Rachel*

      Same here. When I began working in the big city, I made a route of where some of the homeless regulars camped out or panhandled and stopped and talked with them and made them packed lunches on occasion. Most were older men with mental health and/or addictions issues, but I never felt threatened by them. The conversations were always interesting and I actually learned a lot of cool stuff about the city that often went unreported. I later began volunteering at the city’s homeless shelter, which was in a not very nice or safe area of town. I had to park my car on the street and some of the homeless people I befriended who sat outside would offer to watch out for my car to make sure it wasn’t broken into while I was volunteering.

    4. sunny-dee*

      I may be the minority here, but when I said hi to the homeless guy who camped outside my office …. he started following me around, coming inside to talk about how the FBI was chasing him, and threatened to cut my boss’s head off for trying to keep us apart. I ended up having to get a restraining order, and it only ended when he was sent back for another stint in a mental institution. And I literally said hi once.

      1. Artemesia*

        Nearly all homeless people are mentally ill and/or have substance abuse problems. While most are not violent, there are a fair number who can be especially if their mental illness involves paranoia or obsessive behavior. To pretend homelessess is just having bad luck and no home is naive; most people who are temporarily homeless cope — and find housing by and by. Chronic homeless have multiple issues. We need to provide a lot more in the way of mental health care and support for dysfunctional people than our society is willing to do unfortunately and so people like the OP bear the brunt of the problem (in addition of course to the sick people who are unable to move off the street.) Camping in people’s doorways should be illegal, but that can’t be effectively enforced without adequate services and resources.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          It’s much smaller than “nearly all”:

          “In my own research, I have calculated that the rate of severe mental illness among the homeless (including families and children) is 13 to 15 percent. Among the much smaller group of single adults who are chronically homeless, however, the rate reaches 30 to 40 percent. For this population, mental illness is clearly a barrier to exiting homelessness.”

          Taken from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/09/AR2010070902357.html

          1. Basiorana*

            While I doubt it really is “most,” the number of people with mental illness and substance abuse issues who are on the streets, as opposed to staying in shelters or couch surfing, is higher than that. Substance abuse is a barrier to receiving services, and many people with mental illness can’t handle the environment of shelters or are afraid of involuntary psych holds.

            That said, they are rarely dangerous. If you’re dangerous and homeless you will get arrested pretty fast.

          2. Kelly*

            Most shelters in my area have as a condition for a bed that the person is sober and drug free. For some, staying sober is hard. There’s a wide range of emotions as far as the homeless population is concerned. Some in the local media who are sympathetic to them try to paint a rosier picture and promote the success stories. For me, it’s tougher having sympathy for them when there have been homeless or transient individuals viewing porn on public computers where I work. We’ve also had to kick them off machines when they’ve been using them for hours at a time because, unlike at the public library, they don’t need a card to use our machines. That’s a problem because it doesn’t allow people to study in quiet at an academic library.

            Dealing with the homeless and transient population is tricky. There are those for whom that situation is a temporary one and they are trying to recover from a job loss or financial disaster. Then there are the ones that make it a career because they know that there are those who are sympathetic and will give them money, food or drink out of the goodness of their hearts. The main branch of the city library reopened after a renovation last fall with some modifications to the entrance to discourage the homeless from congregating there. The library is also paying for security guards to both monitor the build and watch the homeless that come in. They’ve partnered up with several local non-profits to provide what passes for a day shelter downtown, but the funding for that project comes from donations and grants, not from the city. The city hasn’t shown much interest in having a day shelter in a downtown location, where most of the homeless and transient population cluster.

            The OP’s story reminded me of some of the problems that employees in the city-county building were having with the homeless for a while. They’d have to go into work and have to step over people sleeping in the lobby with their stuff. There were also complaints about employees, including some females, being surprised when they saw some homeless males taking a bath in the women’s restrooms. The county finally had enough and kicked them out this fall in the interest of protecting their employees.

        2. Relosa*

          people like the OP who bear the brunt of the problem…

          Yeah, because homeless people sleep in stoops for kicks and giggles, only to inconvenience the rest of the world. Gosh, it is SO HARD to walk around them or tap someone on the shoulder if they block your path.

          Housing is sooooo widely available and affordable, why don’t they just get jobs and quit it already?

        3. Melissa*

          Actually, no. Aside from what people have already said about nowhere near “nearly all” homeless people being mentally ill…homelessness usually IS just about being low-income and having bad luck. In fact, research suggests that most homeless people develop substance use problems BECAUSE they are homeless, not the other way around.

          But that aside, most mentally ill people are not violent. Psychosis is actually quite uncommon. Homeless people are people.

    5. Revanche*

      And I feel like they are more at risk for being the subject of violence than the average professional (thinking of the horrible “games” teens have played, attacking and beating the homeless).

    6. ella*

      There’s a park near my inner city library that has a playground on it, as well as a large open grassy area and a baseball diamond. The homeless men in the neighborhood have made a habit of sitting on the benches around the playground and “encouraging” the drug dealers to go elsewhere, so that the kids in the housing project across the street can use the playground equipment without fear.

  2. BRR*

    I just want to throw this out there just in case, can people not pile on the LW.

    Unless they have done anything to make you feel unsafe I think you should let it go. If it’s the same people who are camped out try offering an olive branch and bring them something to eat or drink. Or possibly carry pepper spray.

    If it’s a separate safety issue altogether then you should bring that up with your employer.

    1. De Minimis*

      It can be an adjustment if you’re not used to being around homeless people, particularly the ones who suffer from serious mental illness. I went through something similar the first time I had a job in a downtown urban area. I can understand the LW’s worry, but hopefully she will see the good advice here.

      1. Felicia*

        Although I am used to being around homeless people, growing up in a big city, the homeless people with serious mental illnesses that cause them to yell things at you still make me a little afraid. Generally they are unlikely to hurt you, but when they are yelling disturbing things at you, many people are frightened and that’s rational. Unfortunately in my city a large percentage of the homeless population has serious mental illness.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Around 75%. The homeless epidemic started in the 1980s when they shut down a lot of state-run asylums. It’s a sad situation — without hospitals, there isn’t a place for them to go.

                1. Basiorana*

                  That number includes people in shelters or other temporary housing– “street homeless” are more likely to have substance abuse or mental illness than people in shelters.

            1. Melissa*

              It’s nowhere near 75%, even among street homeless. The homeless epidemic did start in the 1980s, but that’s not when they closed institutions – the big wave of asylum closures was in the 1950s and 1960s. The reason homelessness increased so rapidly in the 1980s was largely because real wages began to fall and the safety nets that used to be there either shrank or disappeared, so more people who were already living on the margins had nowhere to turn.

              The chronically homeless – those who are most likely to be living on the street – have mental illness rates of about 30-40%. And that’s just *general* mental illness, not serious mental illness. Actually the vast majority of mentally ill people can function just fine in the community.


              1. Mackenzie*

                “The reason homelessness increased so rapidly in the 1980s was largely because real wages began to fall and the safety nets that used to be there either shrank or disappeared”


      2. Anna*

        I was more concerned about the drug deals I would see out in the open than I was about the homeless people I came across. Where I live is a destination of choice for homeless folk and street kids, but even the shouty ones whose mental illnesses are making themselves known are generally unconcerned with you. The street kids mostly asked me for my leftovers. It was always the drug deals the pissed me off.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I second this. I used to live/work downtown in Santa Cruz, CA, which is notorious for homeless and not homeless street people and panhandlers of all stripes. I can’t recall one instance where I felt threatened, not even when a drunk walked up to the open back door of the restaurant where I worked and bellowed at me for a bowl of soup (we called the cops mostly because he was annoying). But the drug dealer who parked in front of the place I used to stay to go to the motel across the lot scared the living hell out of me. Especially when my friend’s sister flicked her cigarette ash on the hood of his car by accident. I was all, “OMG Mary; we’re dead.” 0_0

          I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Just that the majority of homeless people aren’t out to knife you or anything. I like the suggestion about contacting the outreach programs. While some of the people the OP is encountering won’t accept an offer of help, others might.

    2. aebhel*

      This. If you’re being harassed, threatened, followed…that’s a problem, and that’s something that your employer should handle as a safety issue. If they aren’t, I’d let it go. Almost no one is sleeping in doorways because they want to.

  3. nomnom*

    I bring them cups of coffee; but I work with the homeless in my free time, so I guess the stigma is not there for me. Try saying, “Hi!” There is a real person under that coat and it is extremely rare that they are violent.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Seriously. There are some who are mentally ill (I’ll be honest and admit my discomfort if someone is behaving erratically) but the vast majority are just regular folks who have fallen on hard times for whatever reason and are struggling. It’s a very frightening existence I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone.

      1. AMG*

        I spent a lot of time in a city with a large homeless population. Even the ones with obvious mental illness are generally not dangerous. I have been approached by homeless people and asked for anything from spare change to things I can’t begin to repeat here. It never turned physical or violent. I say this not with the intent of judging you, OP, but to reassure you. Things that are unfamiliar can be intimidating when you don’t know what to expect.

        1. Zillah*

          Yeah, this is an important note – contrary to popular belief and media hype, there are very few mental illnesses that typically cause violent behavior toward anyone but possibly oneself. People with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, this is an important point–the narrative sometimes drifts a little toward “Most homeless people don’t have mental illnesses” and it’s perhaps more useful as well as accurate to say that “Most homeless people aren’t going to hurt anybody, whether they have mental illnesses or not.”

        2. Cath in Canada*

          There are a LOT of homeless people in Vancouver – port city, border city, one of the very few places in Canada where it’s possible to sleep outside in the winter – and some of them do have rather obvious mental health issues. However, in my 13 years living here, and despite multiple interactions per week, I only know one person who ever had a couple of genuinely scary moments, and that was when he would get mistaken for a local drug dealer to whom he apparently bore a very strong resemblance.

          1. Thomas W*

            I second this. There’s a guy who spends a lot of time outside my building in downtown Van and a simple “good morning” has gone a long way to making him just another person I encounter day to day. No need to feel uncomfortable.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I think I’d swap this around a bit. Many, many homeless people have a mental illness. So do many of our co-workers, friends, and family members. Having a mental illness and being a regular person are sort of the same thing. The difference might be that our friends, family members, and co-workers are more likely to have the resources to get treatment, whereas a homeless person might have more trouble getting to multiple appointments per week, juggling several medications, etc.

        Several people have mentioned that this could happen to anyone who lost their income. It could also happen to anyone who developed a mental illness and didn’t have the insight/resources/support system to get on their feet right away.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Yes, absolutely true. I’m in no way making any judgments on circumstances – just commenting that people are sometimes/often uncomfortable talking to people who are noticeably suffering from mental illness.

      3. Anonymouse*

        Mentally ill people are no more erratic or violent than other people, and this stereotype is seriously harmful. People with mental illnesses are far and away more likely to be the victims of violent crime than perpetrators. The stigma against mental illness often prevents people from seeking treatment, and can lead to situations where police, EMTs, home caregivers, or family members mistreat the mentally ill person. Please please please read up on what mental illness actually looks like and why attitudes like this are so dangerous to those of us who suffer from mental illnesses.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          ok, I think in my effort to be brief I may have muddled what I was trying to say, so please allow me to clarify:

          SOME homeless people behave erratically, likely due to untreated or undertreated mental illness. I am uncomfortable with people who behave erratically (for whatever reason) and would keep my distance from them because I don’t know how to interact with people in those circumstances.

          MANY homeless people do not behave erratically, and may or may not suffer from mental illness.

          ALL people deserve to be treated with compassion.

          My ONLY discomfort is from people who behave erratically (for whatever reason – and this include drunk college kids as well).

          I hope that clears it up. I did not mean to offend and I realize how what I said could be misinterpreted.

        2. Zillah*

          Mentally ill people are no more erratic or violent than other people, and this stereotype is seriously harmful.

          I agree with you wholeheartedly about violence – it’s such a harmful stereotype that I think is only becoming more accepted and entrenched in our cultural mindset. However, I’d actually disagree about erratic behavior – it’s not really the point, but I do think that people who suffer from certain mental illnesses are more likely to exhibit erratic behavior, particularly if they’re not receiving treatment (which most homeless people are not). That’s just the nature of the disease in some cases. That doesn’t make them violent, of course, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that especially left untreated, severe mental illness can have visible costs as well as a host of invisible ones.

          (For the record, I do have a mental illness, and I know many other people who do as well – I’m speaking from my personal observations.)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            And erratic doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous. It is difficult to talk to someone when they aren’t lucid, but they probably aren’t going to leap on you randomly either.

  4. Jipsy's Mom*

    It’s been mentioned before in the comments, but Gavin De Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” might be a good read for the letter writer. I know portions are seen as victim-blaming and problematic, but one of his main points is that when we are afraid of everyone, we lose the ability to really distinguish when someone actually intends to do harm.

    I live in a very safe small town. I’m a regular runner, and I have no fear of running through my neighborhood by myself, after dark if need be, etc. I have a friend who also runs, who is convinced that every truck or van that drives past her is full of bad people intending to do her harm. She is terrified of being pulled into a van in broad daylight. This is not A Thing that has ever happened here! She has never actually been followed by a van, or threatened in any way as far as I know. I don’t understand the anxiety… but it’s kind of the vibe I’m getting from the OP in this letter.

    OP, by all means, maintain your awareness going to and from the office, but as Alison notes, this level of anxiety seems unwarranted.

    1. SusanM*

      The Gift of Fear is a great book. It helps one to trust one’s intuition while still be aware and cautious.

    2. fposte*

      Oh, that’s a point of the de Becker that often gets buried–I think some people miss that to the point of reading the book to mean the opposite about fear. Thanks for bringing it up.

    3. Zillah*

      I agree – that book really helped me put things in perspective and stop feeling quite so tense about everything.

      1. A Non*

        Yes. Our culture has so many toxic messages about being afraid all the time (especially if you’re female), it can be hard to make actually useful safety assessments. The lightbulb moment for me was when the author pointed out that a truly empty parking garage is a very safe place to be, because there’s no-one around to hurt you. It’s the presence of someone who is willing to harm you that is dangerous, not any of the things we’re warned not to do. It let me refocus my thinking from ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, but I have to do that, oh no, now I’m in danger’ to a much more effective evaluation of potentially dangerous situations.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Hmmm. Put me on the side of your friend & the OP.

      I’m going to ramble off topic, but in the past 3 years my home/property was burglarized 3 times, last week a shooting happened right next to my son’s high school, and *today* my husband was in a bank that was robbed, 3 hours ago. We live in a “safe” low-crime area! The person who burglarized our house lived in a small town nearby and was a drug addict.

      People are unpredictable and dangerous. I keep my guard up all the time. This has nothing to do with homeless people, but I am just wary around strange people and people I know who seem “off” from their usual selves.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It’s fine to be cautious (and I’m a huge personal safety advocate who plans for zombie apocalypses whilst standing in line at the post office). The point here is not to jump to conclusions that are unwarranted.

        I can’t blame you for being wary, though; I’d be wondering what’s in the water there!

      2. Whippers*

        “People I know who seem “off” from their usual selves”
        Um, can you elaborate a bit further on that? Do you mean if someone you know is in a bad mood or what?

      3. Melissa*

        Oh, I don’t think people are suggesting that she shouldn’t keep her guard up – but simply no more than she would any other strange people loitering around her business all hours of the day.

    5. Laura*

      Thank you for mentioning this book. I am going to check it out. I am very much like your friend and the OP. I get very wary and suspicious of strangers and fear that they might do me harm. I definitely have my own anxiety issues that cause me to be extra wary, but there are just so many stories out there of females who have been attacked, that I get freaked out by the thought and I carry pepper spray with me. I understand why the OP feels unsafe.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    First, please don’t call the police. Homelessness is a nonviolent activity, and please don’t waste public safety resources.

    Second, homeless people arent violent. They’re going about their day just like you are.

    Third, if you get to know the regulars, then they won’t be strangers to you. I’m not saying be bff, but a cup if coffee offering might go a long way.

    Fourth, have some compassion. Please.

  6. MousyNon*

    OP, can I also suggest volunteering at your local homeless shelter? It might help humanize these people if you put names and faces to them.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Exactly. It’s normal to fear that which we don’t understand, so it’s important to make an effort to understand.

    2. fluffy*

      I’m not sure that someone who works 7-6 and has childcare responsibilities is going to be able to wring our more hours. But OP should definitely at least contact shelters or social services to help allay her fears. The homeless are probably sleeping there because they feel it’s safe

      1. sally-o*

        …And if the homeless feel it’s safe, that’s actually a good sign! Homeless people are often the recipients of violence, unfortunately. If they are comfortable camping out in front of your building, perhaps you can take it as a sign that it’s a safe and comfortable area.

        1. jag*

          “And if the homeless feel it’s safe, that’s actually a good sign! Homeless people are often the recipients of violence, unfortunately. ”

          Superb observation.

    3. Joey*

      How is that going to help her get past the people camping in front of the entrance?

      And how is that going to make it any easier to tell a person whos already been told by the cops numerous times to get out of the way?

      1. KerryOwl*

        Suggestions have already been provided in the original post. This is a suggestion so that the OP can get to a place where she is not “terrified” every day, when that reaction may not be entirely warranted.

        1. Joey*

          Being terrified of walking near a random homeless person on a random street is unreasonable. Walking past a homeless person at dawn/dusk whose blocking a secluded path you need to take and has been talked to by the cops about it numerous times is far different.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        It’s not possible to tell from the letter whether the police have been called multiple times on the same person, or multiple times on multiple people. (The OP references “people” plural, so it’s definitely not just the same guy all the time). I agree that continuing a behaviour that you’ve been asked to stop by the cops multiple times is more problematic than if nothing had been said to deter the behaviour, but we don’t know that for sure. I mentioned upthread that I would sometimes find people sleeping right outside the door of my old apartment – it was very rarely the same person more than once.

    4. Ginder*

      I feel sorry for the OP, with all the sanctimonious, preachy, holier-than-thou posturing that went on in this thread. Glad you are all so perfect.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m losing my patience with comments like this, since this thread is littered with them.It’s not holier-than-thou to point out where someone’s reaction might be out of sync with a situation, and it’s something that we do in response to letters on other topics all the time.

        Moreover, it’s a rude contribution to this discussion and out of sync with the civility norms we practice here.

  7. Ann*

    The only way I can see this being a real problem is if they are literally blocking the entrance to the OP’s workplace. The OP mentioned that up front but then didn’t really follow up on it, so I’m not sure if that’s an issue. If not, it would be best to be polite to them. Calling the police really shouldn’t be necessary.

    1. Anonsie*

      Yeah I kind of read this as that they’ve parked all their stuff in the entryway to the building and she has to actually ask them to move or climb over them/their stuff to get in at all, not just walk past them. I would be miffed and wanting an alternate solution if I had to keep doing this, too, though more because I felt like a turd uprooting everyone sheltering in the doorway than out of fear.

      Around here a lot of the doorways are recessed into the building and it’s really common for groups of homeless people to set up blankets/sleeping bags and set up all their stuff in the doorway after businesses are closed. Certain businesses are especially popular, I’ve always assumed because of the entryway shape being practical? There’s an optometrist by here, for example, that closes at 4pm every day and right around 4 people start showing up and waiting for the last person to leave so they can camp there. Now I wonder if the first person there in the morning has to ask everyone to move to get to the doors or if everyone who uses that spot has a rhythm going.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Esp. if she has to wake them up in the morning to get in. There’s the feeling like a jerk factor, but I can also see being afraid of waking someone up. I gotta think people who sleep on the streets sleep with one eye open for their own safety, and who knows how someone will react if you startle them.

        1. Anonsie*

          Oh yeah. Wisest thing to do, I think, would be to have someone go out there when they’re showing up in the evening and just ask politely if they can make sure people can get through the door between x and y hours. They’re probably going off posted or regular business hours and the LW is going in and out well outside of those, so it seems like the natural first step to just let them know the building/doors are actually in use that whole time.

        2. Melissa*

          Oh yeah. My dad grew up rough and if someone was him up, he wakes up fighting. Whenever I’ve had to wake him up, I have to spring away from him so he doesn’t accidentally punch me. I wouldn’t want to wake up a homeless person (just because of the startle factor – I think their wariness is justified) so them sleeping in the entryway to my office would be a problem in that sense.

  8. Green IT*

    I would recommend finding out if there is a local shelter or soup kitchen near by and give them the details so they know where they can go to get warm food and maybe a bed for the night. You can also call the local shelters and ask them if they’ll come by and speak to the homeless people and encourage them to stay at a shelter, rather than be outside.

    1. Natalie*

      The shelter might even have cards or resource books OP could give. A few of the big homeless-service orgs in my area publishes a “Handbook of the Streets” with all kinds of information on where one can get a bed, showers, food, etc.

    2. Artemesia*

      I have worked with homeless programs and volunteered at shelters. Homeless people know about these options; the ones sleeping on the streets have chosen to not use available shelters. Sometimes shelters are perceived as dangerous (and may in fact be); shelters don’t allow substance use and that is important to many homeless people; some people don’t like following rules even for shelter. Telling them about shelters is very unlikely to move them from the OP’s doorway. As noted earlier, homeless people are more likely to be the victims than perpetrators of violence (although homeless people also prey on other homeless people). But there are some who are violent or aggressive because of paranoid delusions. The other day I had one screaming in my face on the subway for ‘looking at him funny’ — I hadn’t even noticed him until he began screaming at me and making gestures like he was going to punch me. Very rare, but I sure as hell don’t want to be standing on the subway platform with this guy behind me either. Every one of the dozen or so people pushed under subway trains in the last couple of years has been the victim of a mentally ill person — often one with a long history of violence who was nevertheless denied residential mental heath care — even when they requested it. The worst case was the murderer in Texas who was executed not long ago — he had begged for mental health care for years because he knew he was violent and ill — but we have money to kill people not to help them.

      1. Natalie*

        I wouldn’t dismiss an outreach program out of hand. Some of them provide services other than shelter beds and/or can serve as a liaison, for example suggesting different outdoor areas for the person to sleep.

      2. Melissa*

        I don’t think it’s that homeless people have necessarily chosen freely not to use shelters; the vast majority of people would rather follow rules than sleep in the street, especially in the winter time in the Northern hemisphere. It’s rather that the rules at shelters sometimes are impossible to follow for people. For example, local shelters in my last city were so crowded that people would have to line up at around 4 pm in order to get inside – I would see them starting to line up when I was on my way out of class or work in the evenings. Well, if you work (as a large percentage of homeless people do) or your kids are in school, you might not make it to the shelter in enough time to get a spot. Or maybe you do make it to the line, but they only have 2 beds left and you have 4 children. Some of them have curfews which don’t work for night workers. People who sleep on the street usually do so because they have *no* other options.

  9. Katie the Fed*

    Alison, thank you for your thoughtful response to this letter. As someone who volunteers with the homeless, this letter broke my heart a little.

    OP, one thing to keep in mind – it might actually be nice to have the same folks around – they’re the eyes and ears. There’s a reason on Law & Order they always talk to the homeless people in the area – they know what’s normal in an area or not.

    A few years ago I was living in a city that was still a little rough, and there were two homeless guys who frequently hung out in the parking lot next to my apartment building (I got annoyed a couple times because they’d be talking loudly by my window, sometimes early in the morning). Anyway, they seemed harmless enough but it was getting colder out, and I got worried about them, so I did some reading on useful things for homeless people and I got them each a backpack and filled it with warm socks, some perishable and non-perishable food, waterproof ponchos, a water bottle, wet wipes and toiletries, and some other things, along with information for nearby homeless shelters. I gave them the backpacks one day and introduced myself – that was really the extent of it.

    But, they always said hi to me when I saw them around the city and in my parking lot, and it got to be a very comforting factor for me, like neighbors who are always around. Because frankly, these people ARE your neighbors, whether you like them or not so you might as well make nice with them.

    I’m not saying you have to get that involved – this is the only time I’ve actually done that much but that was because I saw the same people every day and I felt like I should reach out to them. They’re people, not criminals.

    1. sam*

      When I went to law school, we had a homeless guy who pretty much lived in front of the school – Earl. Everyone got to know him, and he got to know everyone, to the point where, when he wasn’t there, we would worry about him. Our property professor would make him a “character” on at least one question on our final exams every year. We all felt safer with Earl around, and it turns out we took care of him in kind – apparently the school offered him a job at one point but it turned out that he made more money off-the-books than he would as an entry-level worker on campus.

      Of course, this is different than the guy who lives on my street now who has been known to stand in the middle of Columbus Avenue with no clothes and block traffic for 20 minutes while screaming at the top of his lungs. For that, I call the police. I’ve even been followed/chased a few times by “aggressive”, clearly disturbed individuals. I understand the fear that can come from that, but that’s a small fraction of any city or town’s homeless population. But I think we can all agree that there’s a substantive difference between Earl and aggressive no-pants guy.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        “…he made more money off-the-books than he would as an entry-level worker…”

        A sad commentary on our economy. If we paid a living wage at the low end, we’d likely have much less homelessness.

      2. Zoe*

        We actually have a non-aggressive no-pants guy in our downtown area! At first it’s a bit startling, but he’s harmless. He doesn’t beg or usually bother anyone. If you speak to him, he speaks to you. It turns out that he was once a wrestler and suffered a head injury, leaving him mentally disabled and unable to work or provide for himself. Thus, now homeless. Also, now pantsless. He thinks he’s still wearing his wrestling leotard. :-/
        It may sound sort of funny at first, but really the point is – everyone has a story. Everyone has a reason for why their life path has brought them to where they are. It’s usually worth digging a little deeper to find that out.

        1. sam*

          I would definitely rate the aggressiveness higher on the scale of problems than the no-pants in my situation. But (and this is where I turn into my mother), this is also a pretty residential area, with a lot of kids, and while I generally think people who live in NYC should be expected to learn to deal with a certain amount of stuff and if parents want their kids to live in a bubble they should move to the suburbs, I think ranting naked people in the middle of the street, particularly when they’re causing massive traffic jams, is a bit…much. Heck, I’d go so far as to say that the nakedness is the least of the problems in that situation.

          It’s become a bit more of a problem in recent months because they put scaffolding up on the building on my corner, so the guy is now camping out under there in a narrow space that makes it really hard to navigate past him without getting harassed when he’s around (scaffolding + bar on the corner that has an extended terrace that takes up sidewalk space + tree boxes near the curb = one-person width of navigable space on a good day). I’ve taken to crossing the street part of the way down the block.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      That’s a very good point about them being your neighbors. And if you get to know your neighbors, you often watch out for each other. Which, as Sam says right at the top, can make you safer.

    3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes, this was such a compassionate response to the letter all around. Not just compassionate to the people who are dealing with homelessness*, but also challenging the OP on her views in a kind way.

      *Homelessness is often a temporary situation rather than a permanent one – keeping this in mind can affect one’s views on homeless people, too.

    4. Ethyl*

      Clean, dry socks are always useful for folks living on the streets. Foot care in general for the homeless is a big problem — and small problems can get worse and worse when you don’t have access to health care.

      1. JMegan*

        Also tampons and pads. Having your period is a Big Deal when you live on the street, and many homeless women don’t have access to sanitary supplies.

        1. Relosa*

          I’ve definitely noticed both of these. There is a homeless woman who roams in front of my workplace. Something about watching her slowly shuffle by each day I think finally got my butt into gear about helping out.

        2. Melissa*

          I was reading an article the other day about how tampons and pads are some of the most prized donations at women’s shelters – apparently the clients really like it when a variety are donated because they like the option of choice. They don’t get much chance to choose in other areas of their lives. I used to belong to community service org in college and we’d periodically make these donation packages for women’s shelters and we always put tons of menstrual products in them. They disappeared in like 10 minutes.

  10. Muriel Heslop*

    Please contact one of your areas local resource centers for the homeless. I volunteer with one and one of our missions is to educate the public about the realities of homelessness. Unless one of the people sleeping outside your office has given you a reason to be afraid, please don’t be. I encourage you to be friendly and polite like you would with any other person. Of course, maintain awareness, but once you extend a little goodwill I hope you might feel better.

    Like Sarah, I wondered if there is something especially attractive about the OP’s office front – no lighting, etc. That would be worth talking to your company about as that isn’t safe in general.

  11. Lanya*

    While I don’t think homeless people are intrinsically terrifying, I can understand why the OP would feel uneasy about opening up the office alone in the dark every morning with strangers hanging out only feet from the door.

    The advice that has already been posted is very good regarding getting to know the regulars.

    1. Felicia*

      +1 – i think being alone in the dark with strangers is kind of scary, but the suggestion to make them not strangers is good, and it’s not because they’re homeless.

  12. Ruth (UK)*

    I have a similar awkward situation that the building I rent where i live kind of looks derelict and I don’t think people realise its actually occupied. The doorway is sheltered and I keep my bike inside which leads to the occasional awkward situation of actually having to wake a homeless person up in the morning as I cant step over them with the bike.

    I have never been threatened in this case though I understand not wanting to be alone in the dark with strangers you don’t know. There are often websites where you can enter information about homeless people in your area so you can bring their attention to people who might be able to help. However if its the same people there’s a good chance they already know about any local services for the homeless or have declined help for whatever reason in the past. If what you want is to be left alone your best bet I to probably ignore them, unfortunately. Also, since its winter they’d probably appreciate a hot drink if you’re able to.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Can you get the landlord to install lighting over the door? That might help people realize it’s occupied, and would improve safety in terms of people not tripping in the dark.

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        thanks for the suggestion, however my landlord is (unfortunately) a massive [word I should not use] and I basically only stay here because it’s insanely cheap (and I can’t afford to live elsewhere) and also the people I share with are awesome.

        We actually have no electricity downstairs at all so we can’t even plug in a light or anything indoors that would show through the window. However, we have got electric and water upstairs now and I’m lighting it with xmas lights which is extremely festive for January…

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That sounds completely unsafe for you and your housemates, from a standpoint of living conditions. I hope you have heat–without using the oven! It’s been super cold there lately.

          I will gladly skate-kick your *cough slumlord cough* as well. >:(

        2. amy*

          I bought stick on, battery run LED lights a while ago, they were super cheap and a couple would provide a decent amount of light. There were also cheap solar powered LED’s that automatically turned on and off according to available light. Might make it a wee bit safer if you can find someone to attach them.

  13. some1*

    If the LW is in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, St. Stephen’s Human Services is a great org. (Despite the name, it’s not affiliated with a church or religious org.) I will reply with the link so I don’t go into moderation.

    1. TOC*

      St. Stephen’s has a Street Outreach team; their number is 612-879-7624. Folks in the Minneapolis area, program this number into your cell phone. Call them any time you see someone who might be in distress, outside in dangerously cold weather, passed out, etc. The Street Outreach team will go visit people in need, provide basic supplies, and work to connect them with housing, medical care, etc. They work with the police to keep folks safe, and they can help decide whether a law-enforcement response would help the situation or not.

      1. Natalie*

        One of our buildings is downtown, so skyway connected a popular place for homeless folks to hang out. The Outreach Team has been really helpful as none of us feel especially comfortable calling the police.

  14. Boo*

    Really glad Alison addressed OP’s mindset towards the homeless she encounters. I don’t wish to start a pile-on, but please OP consider that there but for the grace of God (or redundancy, or poor health, or a dodgy landlord) go I and a lot of other people. Many people through no fault of their own are only a couple of paycheques away from disaster at any time, and once you don’t have a fixed address it is extremely difficult to receive benefits or indeed employment.

    As a petite woman who lives alone and often travels alone I can understand your anxiety, I really can. But just try saying hello every now and then. They’re just people, like everyone else. Once you get to know them I’ve no doubt your anxieties will vanish. Just as a similar example, there is a group of teens/young men who like to hang outside the main doors to my block of flats at night. They do appear intimidating, but I made a point to say hello and ask them how they were or comment on the weather. Now things are so amicable that when they are keeping me awake I can ask them to leave or keep it down and they will.

    I also like Alison’s suggestion of contacting local charities – it’s possible this is a new problem for you because these people have been “moved on” from their old spots.

  15. AnonForThis*

    Just a thought here – and I’ll echo Jipsy’s Mom’s suggestion to read Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear – but we don’t know the letter writer’s background. There might be some unresolved issues that weren’t mentioned. I know after I was attacked, it took well over a decade and intensive situational/martial arts training to be able to judge situations rationally and feel safe again. There also may have been specific incidents with homeless individuals not mentioned in the letter adding to her fear. It does sound like it’s largely fear of the unknown, but it’s clearly affecting her. Although I normally like Alison’s advice, I’m concerned we’re dismissing the LW’s fears as irrational offhand.

    1. fposte*

      But having a past doesn’t make the fears more rational; it just makes them more understandable.

      If any of the people have been aggressive toward her, that would make the fear more rational, and in that case I think it might be worth a conversation with the cops in a little more detail about who specifically has been a problem.

      1. fposte*

        Now that I think about it, I think “rational” isn’t a good word anyway. How about “justifiable”? It doesn’t mean you can’t be afraid of something anyway, but it means it’s not as likely to hurt you as your fears suggest.

    2. Helka*

      I don’t think anyone is telling the LW that her fears are irrational — we’re telling her the truth, which is that these people are not very likely to be dangerous to her, and that she should try to get to know them a little so she can see them as individuals instead of as a mass of — as you put it — the unknown.

    3. Boo*

      True we don’t know OP’s background, but to be fair to the other commenters here (and Alison!) I don’t see anyone being dismissive or calling the OP irrational. I do see a lot of people being quite understanding of her fears but asking her to reconsider how she deals with them.

  16. louise*

    We had a bench and a decorative fountain under a covered entrance at a former employer. It was not uncommon for the first arrival to find someone still asleep on the bench, or trying to clean up in the fountain. When I started working there, the vibe I got from everyone was that it was no big deal. We had free coffee and soda in reception for clients, and one of the homeless men would stop in every couple weeks to ask for 2 sodas and he’d take them out to his girlfriend and they’d have a date. I was sad when we got a new receptionist who wasn’t comfortable and wouldn’t let him. I thought he was sweet to ask and sweet to look out for his girlfriend and was sorry for him when it came to an end.

  17. Lizzy May*

    OP, I agree with many of the comments that homeless people are typically non-violent and you shouldn’t be afraid, but don’t feel bad calling the police when the situation warrants it. My mom works for a bank and is often the first person there in the morning. In the winter she will occasionally find a homeless person in the ATM vestibule and normally she asks them to leave, no big. But in the past, she’s come across a person using drugs, people who refuse to leave, people who are actively using the ATM space as a bathroom and one time a man who was passed out totally naked. Call the police when the action is illegal but not just because homeless people are there. Police resources are finite and being homeless isn’t a crime. Call the police when there is a crime, but otherwise you need to figure out what you need to do to feel safe on your own.

    From the business end, it probably would make sense to ask your office to install a light/brighter light. It would probably cut down on the number of people outside of your door. If your office needs to be accessed by clients, maybe your company will hire security to watch the front of the office. Ultimately, that’s what my mom’s bank did. They want customers to feel safe using the ATM, so a couple times a night a guard passes through and clears out anyone camping out in the vestibule.

      1. Cranberry*

        I don’t know. The comments here are really pretty unhelpful — I cannot imagine that all of these people would be A-OK with having people camping out front of their private homes 24/7. Seriously.

        1. neverjaunty*

          People have made many comments that are respectful of the OP while pointing out concrete solutions – such as talking to homeless outreach groups and getting to know these people so OP can diffuse her anxiety (and take appropriate action if there IS a threat). That seems like the opposite of unhelpful.

        2. V*

          I agree with what not being A-OK with having homeless people outside your home 24/7. I considered moving downtown to a small microloft that’s a 20 minute walk away from my work. It was the cheapest place in downtown and the place itself was nice, clean, and newly renovated… but it was in the bad side of town. My city has a big homeless problem and all the homeless are centered in that area. I encounter homeless people everyday downtown and I don’t have problems with them and I’ve volunteered at a soup kitchen before. But in the end I still opted out of that cheap, clean bachelors apartment because everyday when I come and go I would encounter homeless people asking me for money and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing something like carry groceries when there are starving people camped at my door.

        3. JMegan*

          So what do you think would be more helpful? I’m not trying to be aggressive or argumentative, just genuinely curious as to what we might be missing here.

          Because I agree with neverjanuty and others, that the tone has been respectful to the OP, and lots of people have pointed out concrete solutions to her problem. If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them as well!

        4. aebhel*

          Okay, but the solution to that is better infrastructure, mental health care, and shelter networks–none of which the OP can really do anything about as an individual. Calling the police on someone for sleeping on the sidewalk is cruel, and it won’t actually solve the problem long-term, since all the police will do in most cases is run them off.

        5. Melissa*

          Well, aside from the fact that we weren’t talking about private homes at all – I used to live in NYC. There were people camped out on my block (both my residential block and my job’s block) all the time, who I would have to pass at all hours of the day and night to get home. They were usually sleeping or sitting there and not bothering anyone. They were just trying to live their lives like the rest of us and had nowhere to go.

          What kind of advice should people have given the OP instead? As mentioned, the best the police would do is tell them to move along. In places in which sleeping outside is being criminalized, I suppose the police might come along and arrest them, but that seems like a jerk move and doesn’t solve the problem. Several people have advised her to get to know the people at her doorstep so she can feel more comfortable around them and with asking them to move, which seems pretty helpful to me.

    1. Barney Stinson*

      There’s an excellent point in here: Even if we stipulate that homeless people are harmless, how do we know that they’re all homeless?

      I agree with the solutions/comments from Lizzy May.

  18. MaryMary*

    I really love the positive tone of Alison’s response and everyone’s comments. :-)

    OP, I agree with a couple of the other commenters who suggested seeing if the entry way could be better lit or presented (maybe there is overgrown landscaping or another issue) so you can feel safer. However, I’d start with your building’s maintenance person or facilities manager. Trying to coordinate betwen your office, the home office, and the building’s ownership is going to be more complicated and time consuming than if you could work directly with someone responsible for the building.

  19. Molli*

    It is normal and natural to fear the unknown. It is how early humans survived in the wilds and how we evolved into what we are today. But these people (and they are people, just like you and me) need not be unknown. As people, some may be violent. But they are no more likely to be violent towards you than anyone else you pass on the street. Which is, of course, to say that it is extremely unlikely.

    I think your fear comes from the stigma that homelessness=mental illness=dangerous. It is understandable. This is often what society is told. But first, mental illness=/=violent and homeless=/=mental illness. I think it would be worth exploring this prejudice by getting to know the real, live, humans outside your office. Ask their names, wish them a good day and carry on.

    And, as others have said, I strongly suggest you at least speak with your local homeless resources. Learn more about the problem of homelessness and I bet you will start to feel far more comfortable. Which is good for everyone.

  20. Anony-moose*

    Thank you, Alison, for your well-thought answer and for everyone’s conversation in the comments. Homelessness is an issue I care deeply about but also one that can be really troubling to talk about and tackle.

    I agree with the sentiment to listen to your gut. As a single young woman there have been many times where I’ve been afraid for my personal safety, whether leaving work, running, walking the dog, etc. Being afraid of ALL homeless people wouldn’t be helpful to me.

    At my old office there was a man experiencing homelessness who was often around when I went to Starbucks, etc. He was clearly struggling with mental illness and grew increasingly erratic and would follow people, screaming, shouting profanity, etc. It got to a point where I DID feel like I had to call the cops after he followed me for about a block (busy neighborhood, middle of the day, but alarming nonetheless). But that was once out of nearly 30 years of living/working/playing in Chicago.

    Listen to your gut, but also make sure you aren’t letting stigma or fear rule when it may be discomfort!

    Others have suggested volunteering and this has been an incredible experience for me. I ran (for a short while) with an organization called Back On My Feet that helps individuals experiencing homelessness. The experience was powerful, difficult, and really educational. I can’t wait to start running with them again now that my schedule permits it!

  21. SJP*

    Right, before I write this please just read it and don’t jump down my throat..

    The Op letter writer states that in the morning and late at night she has to leave and sometimes (It has happened to me) if you have to disturb them from sleep then they can be really grumpy and sometimes quite sweary etc which I can definitely understand being intimidated.
    Also (not all but some) might be passed out drunk and with that dead weight how is she supposed to open the door and get them out the way to physically get in? That can also be scary if they do suddenly wake up and get angry. Plus super inconvenient if you have a large male (for example) and she cannot get in the door.

    I know not all homeless people are like the examples I gave above, but where I live in England we do have a lot of homeless people, often they have mental problems and also abuse substances and they can be generally (not always, again reiterating) but very loud, sometimes aggressive and in your face. They do receive help, one of my best friends works for the charity that help them) but still they can be ‘very out there’ when being near them
    I see both sides of the coin and do get the vibe this OP is being prejudice and tarring all homeless people with the same brush, but I do also see the side where I can see how they could get scared.

    I think Alison’s friends response about asking your company to erect lights that are always on would discourage people from sleeping or resting there which would solve the issue of them camping out there but also provide more light which I’m sure would make the situation a bit less scary by being able to see clearly

    1. Natalie*

      I think if someone is physically blocking the door that’s a different matter entirely, but it’s not clear to me that the homeless people near OP’s workplace are actually in the vestibule or in the way of the door. I know she says “blocking” once, but the rest of the letter sounds more to me like they are nearby the door.

      1. SJP*

        True, yes it does only mentioned it once, although I thought i’d mention it as it seems it is a possibility.

    2. Anonymouse*

      Okay so I’ve lived and worked in a big city for twenty years, and I have NEVER seen a homeless person literally blocking a door so that you can’t open it without asking him to move his body. NEVER. In the two years that I worked as ad admin and was the first on site to open and unlock for the day, not a day went by that there wasn’t at least one, if not more, homeless men sleeping in the covered porch in front of my building’s entrance and NEVER did they literally block the doorway. Just think about it for two seconds:why on earth would they block the door? That just means that someone will wake them up at seven in the morning, which is just as unpleasant for them as it would be for me.

      Honestly, I’m starting to wonder how many of the commenters here have ever actually seen a homeless person in real life instead of on Law and Order.

      1. Barney Stinson*

        My husband encountered exactly that situation (gentleman parked up against his door every day) at his office for several months.

        Just because you’ve never seen it, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

      2. Zillah*

        This. I think that people often forget that being homeless is actually a really scary thing that leaves you very vulnerable to violent and non-violent crime. You don’t have a private, safe residence you can retreat to, and people are much less likely to help you if you’re uncomfortable or even being actively menaced. It’s unlikely that someone in that situation is going to sleep in a doorway so that someone can trip over them and fly off the handle – because people who aren’t homeless can absolutely be violent and erratic. It’s not like most mental illnesses are going to make you less likely to think about that, either – if anything, it’s generally the other way around.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Wow, that’s a really good point. We often forget how often the homeless are victims of crimes and harrassment as well

      3. A Non*

        I’ve seen homeless people blocking a door. It’s not common, and I imagine they’ll find a better spot or at least shift over as soon as they learn that someone’s coming in regularly to unlock in the mornings, but it does happen.

      4. Anonsie*

        I hadn’t in any of the other cities I’ve lived in, but it’s really common around where I live now. Recessed entryways are common and they shelter from the bad weather, so in the late afternoon/evening when businesses close people show up with their sleeping bags and bed down in there. So not only would you need to ask them to move, they’d have to move their belongings as well since the whole entryway is usually full of stuff.

        It looks like everyone knows the business hours and they’re in and out when the businesses are closed, though I can’t really say.

      5. LCL*

        A person was sleeping against the door to one of our facilities. Our empl0yee was intimidated, used the other door, and told another worker. The other worker pushed the door open hard into the sleeper. On his way off property he broke the mirror of the company truck.

        1. Boo*

          The other worker sounds like an enormous tool. Not to mention a stupid one, since if this person *was* dangerous, hurting them would only increase the chances of them assaulting a member of staff.

        2. Lisbonslady*

          How sad. If they didn’t feel comfortable asking the person to leave or unblock the door, certainly assaulting him was not appropriate. These are human beings.

      6. EG*

        I agree, homeless folks I’ve seen around my area seem to want to go unnoticed, which is understandable. They just want to have a quiet place to stay. And like any group, there are always a few bad apples who give the group a bad reputation. I like the advice given here, be courteous to these folks and don’t call the cops unless they’re threatening your safety directly.

      7. SJP*

        Thanks everyone for agreeing with me, especially Barney because you know what Anonymouse he summed it up, just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen so please don’t insult me by trying to insinuate that I think all homeless people are like what you see on TV.
        The examples above are proof that it does happen and the OP is intimidated by that. If she was stuck in the building due to not being able to move someone blocking the door then that is a problem..
        Christ, some people on here do love to get on their high horse…

        As I mentioned multiple times, they were examples that do not apply to all homeless people..

    3. just laura*

      I agree. While people are being very respectful, the OP has a problem that isn’t really being given a solution (outside of installing more lights).

      Presumably she unlocks the door and it’s clear she is alone in the building. I’d be nervous no matter who was loitering around. Same with locking up– it’s clear she is alone. Saying “hi” and volunteering at a soup kitchen don’t really assuage those concerns in my mind.

      1. Melissa*

        That’s probably because there isn’t really a quick solution to this problem, unless the police are willing to come every day to shoo the sleepers away or the company hires a security guard to do the same thing.

  22. C Average*

    Like many others here, I’ve volunteered at homeless shelters, given money and food and drink and other stuff to local homeless, and generally find the homeless I’ve encountered to be nonthreatening once I became familiar with them. I try to meet the homeless with compassion and not suspicion or fear whenever I can.

    That said, I feel for the OP on this one. People who choose to sleep in the entryway to a business, forcing a solitary female employee to maneuver around them in the pre-dawn darkness, are violating several social norms, and it’s not crazy for her to wonder if their willingness to operate outside the boundaries of everyday society in those particular respects might mean they’re also inclined to disregard other boundaries and norms. It’s an unnerving situation and I can see why she dislikes starting her workday by dealing with it every day.

    If I were her, honestly, I’d reach out to local homeless resources for advice on this. Homeless populations in different towns and even in different parts of the same town have drastically different makeups, and someone familiar with the homeless population in this specific area might be able to reassure her or advise her.

    I know in my own city, there are areas of town where the homeless are more confrontational and petty crime is more common, and I wouldn’t walk alone through those areas after dark. On the other hand, there are parts of town where, because there are naturally sheltered areas, the homeless typically form communities, but it’s relatively safe.

    Is she in a bad part of town where she should be legitimately worried about opening alone? Or is she in an area that’s attractive to the homeless purely because the architecture offers some shelter? If she gets educated about this, she’ll have a better sense of whether there’s actually reason to be wary.

    1. TOC*

      A local homeless service provider might even know and have existing relationships with the particular folks hanging around OP’s door. Building a relationship with those service providers, as well as with the folks themselves, will really help the OP feel like she’s not in danger and that she has some support when she has questions or concerns.

  23. TOC*

    I have also worked in homeless shelters and agree with the sentiment that most people experiencing homelessness are not dangerous. Still, I can understand how navigating around folks every morning (if they’re really blocking the door) is uncomfortable for the OP. I don’t want to come down too harshly on her because I can see the potential for this thread to become a pile-on.

    OP, I think it’s appropriate to take some safety measures to help yourself feel safe. Your situation is mostly likely pretty safe but sometimes being proactive helps us feel better. See if the property manager can make your entry less comfortable (better lighting, eliminating benches, security patrols). I think it’s fine to carry pepper spray, as long as you only use it when someone is actively threatening your safety, not just sitting in your way.

    One tough thing about being homeless is that it’s really easy to get caught up with law enforcement for doing petty things (loitering, etc.). When police come ticket or arrest people, they’re being punished simply for having nowhere else to go. The things we enjoy in the privacy of our own home (napping, having a beer, using the bathroom) all take place in public because folks have no other option. Those arrests become a lengthy criminal record that prevents perfectly harmless people from securing a job or renting an apartment. That keeps them homeless even longer.

    You are completely within your rights to call the police if someone is actually posing a danger to your safety. When I worked in shelters, there were rare times that we called the police because the situation merited it. But most of the time you’re not in danger at all. I hope you and your managers can find some solutions that help you feel more comfortable while still respecting the dignity and humanity of folks who need a safe place to sleep.

    1. SJP*

      Just wanna +1 on this, because as you and others above have written, you should only call the police when it genuinely warrants it cause police resources are finite and also as you say, it can work against them getting a home or job just cause of petty things on their record.
      Well said TOC

    2. Dasha*

      I agree with TOC.

      OP is there a reason why you don’t want to carry pepper spray? I carry pepper spray when I’m alone at night or walking my dog at night and I feel like so much safer. I think it would help in your situation.

      1. jag*

        “OP is there a reason why you don’t want to carry pepper spray?”

        I’m a guy of average size, so perhaps my opinion is affected by that, but carrying even non-lethal weapons really disturbs me. I don’t want to do it.

        1. Zillah*

          I’m not sure pepper spray is the right approach for the OP, but I think that being a guy of average size makes you significantly less vulnerable in general than many women.

            1. Zillah*

              Can you cite a source for that, please? Because I have to say, I know far more women who have been threatened and harassed in public places than I know men.

              1. Zillah*

                Follow up: Specifically, I’d like to see where this happened. I’d believe that men are more likely to be attacked by a stranger in general without a problem, but when it comes to being attacked in a public place while you’re just going about your daily business, I really want to see a source – and that’s what we’re talking about here.

                1. TL -*

                  I don’t know about where ( but at least one source includes violent speech if not street harassment) with the exception of sexual and domestic violence but with still higher overall rates, men are more often victims from http://nortonbooks.typepad.com/everydaysociology/2009/05/who-is-most-likely-to-be-a-crime-victim.html
                  You can follow the sources from the last two links.
                  I would say that men are more likely to be in physical danger from the research I’ve seen. The physiological stress of street harassment is a different consideration.

              2. Melissa*

                It is true, but the way I learned it, men were more likely to be victims of violent crime because they are also more likely to be involved in activities that raise the rates of violent crime. For example, men are far more likely to be be the victims of gang- or drug-related violent crime. Women are more likely to be victims of simple assault, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. And women are far more likely to be victims of criminal harassment than men.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I am a guy of above-average size and I carry pepper spray because 1) I am not comfortable with conflict, despite the fact that 2) I am trained, and I’m probably capable of doing a lot of damage in a real fight, so I’d rather have a non-lethal weapon that can be used at a distance.

          And as for the fact that it can be taken from you and used against you, if someone is physically attacking me, being sprayed with pepper spray (my own or someone else’s) is the least of my concerns.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        If the OP really doesn’t want to carry pepper spray, maybe a really powerful flashlight would work – so a) you can see better when it’s dark out, and b) if necessary, you can dazzle someone long enough to get away from them.

      3. Barney Stinson*

        A problem with pepper spray and other weapons is that they can be taken away from you and used against you. It’s not a cure-all.

      4. Chinook*

        “OP is there a reason why you don’t want to carry pepper spray?”
        If I was OP, there are a number of reasons I wouldn’t:
        1. It is illegal here (in Canada) unless it is called Bear Spray and is used on animals
        2. If the wind comes from the wrong direction, it can blow back in the users face, incapacitating the user and not the intended person
        3. A small portion of the population is immune to it. DH is one of them (as he learned at police training – surprised the heack out of trainging partner who sprayed him). You run the risk then of just ticking off the other person more while wasting valuable escape time.

        1. Chinook*

          P.S. – the nickname for bear spray among hikers I know: seasoning. Obviously, we don’t rely on it for wildlife either.

          1. KarenT*

            Interesting, I didn’t know that. It probably explains why I’ve never seen it in real life nor know anyone who carries it!

        2. ella*

          Not sure if anyone is reading this because it’s two days old, but I’m pretty sure that pepper spray for bears and pepper spray for humans generally aren’t the same concentration of spray. I’d worry that bear spray would be more likely to blind or seriously injure a person than…human spray. That’s entirely a guess though.

      5. Dasha*

        Hey guys, woah. Just a suggestion for the OP. It works for me, it may not work for everyone but for me personally, I do feel safer. I think someone also said a flashlight, or even like a whistle (??) might help the OP feel like she has some sort of protection.

      6. Ruth (UK)*

        Pepper spray is pretty nasty stuff.. Its also illegal to carry in the UK. I’m assuming op is somewhere in the states and I know the USA has very different laws about arming yourself but I can understand not wanting to carry that kind of weapon..

  24. AMD*

    I just want to chime in support of the writer – it’s not bad to have this initial fear and anxiety, and to be frustrated that there isn’t an easy way to handle the situation, that even the police haven’t helped you meaningfully. These seem like things I’d be feeling and fearing in the same position.

    That being said, Alison and the other commenters are giving you tools to adress the anxiety and the issue. Please read the advice not as judgmental or dismissive of your feelings, but as offering ways to empower you to deal with them.

  25. Amber Rose*

    LW, if they are still there later in the day when other people have arrived, consider going out and offering coffee to them. Maybe enlist a coworker to help carry the coffee. That way you should be less scared because you aren’t alone and you can get an idea if your fears are justified. Odds are good you will find they aren’t. :)

    1. Kat*

      Yes!!! I love this. If she’s already freaked out, speaking to these folks for the first time alone might be too much…but maybe she has a co-worker who’s more comfortable and could accompany her. Barring background that we don’t know about, my guess is that she will feel much more comfortable once she gets to know these folks a bit.

  26. 1stTimeCityGurl*

    OP, I can actually understand a bit where you’re coming from. I started my first full time job in a big city some months ago and, being from a much smaller town with no homeless population to speak of, was really nervous about encountering the homeless of the city. The entrance of my building is a large covered area so, especially now that it’s winter, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for there to be a homeless person or two sleeping there.

    However, nothing at all has happened to realize my fears so I’ve relaxed a lot more. If there hasn’t been an actual incident to encourage your fear, then I think you’re okay. Good luck!

    1. TOC*

      I will point out that even small, safe communities have people experiencing homelessness. It just usually looks different: someone living in their car, or a tent, or on a friend’s couch. Homelessness is happening in every community but it’s often hidden because it doesn’t look the way we expect it to. OP has probably interacted with other homeless folks before in her life (and came away perfectly unharmed) but she just didn’t know it. I know I can even sometimes fail to realize that someone is experiencing homelessness… and I have worked in shelters.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s a really good point–that street living is only the most visible subset of homelessness.

    2. some1*

      Yeah, it doesn’t sound like the LW has even been *approached*, much less intimidated or pestered for change or anything.

  27. Mirily*

    OP don’t forget the inherent dignity that belongs to each individual human whether their situation is dignified or not. Showing them the basic respect of saying “hello” or having a conversation with them – which they probably do not get often – may change your mind about who these people are and whether or not you should fear them.

    Regardless, I can understand your feelings: it’s incredibly easy to be afraid of the unknown and right now that’s what these people are. But they’ve been brought literally to your doorstep one way or another. At the very least I think speaking with a local organization that assists the homeless may help.

  28. Lurker*

    When my partner and I first decided to co-habitat we had doubles of many things, including a comforter. The night we were paring down items, it was a freezing December night so I asked my partner to go out and find a homeless person to give our extra comforter to. Over the years, we saw this homeless man in our our neighborhood frequently. My partner would occasionally buy him something to eat or drink from the neighborhood grocery. One time he asked my partner which building was ours — he told us he wouldn’t use it as a bathroom (which I thought must be quite a compliment in the world of homelessness)! We moved to a different neighborhood about a year ago, but I frequently wonder how he’s doing — and look for him when I go back to our old ‘hood.

    I understand that it is uncomfortable to have homeless strangers loitering at the entrance to your workplace, but unless they have given some indication that they are mentally unstable please try to be polite to them. Be thankful you have a job and a home to go to, and don’t have to live in front of someone’s office building!

    1. Zillah*

      but unless they have given some indication that they are mentally unstable please try to be polite to them.

      How about unless they’ve given some indication that they’re violent? Mentally unstable people are not inherently more violent, and as we’ve covered elsewhere, that’s a really harmful stereotype.

      1. Chinook*

        “How about unless they’ve given some indication that they’re violent? Mentally unstable people are not inherently more violent, and as we’ve covered elsewhere, that’s a really harmful stereotype.”

        That is a good distinction. I remember one woman in Ottawa who was always outside a shelter I would drive by who had two dolls always attached to her chests (couldn’t tell if she was trying to breastfeed them or just carry them closely). From her behaviour, she was absolutely unstable but looked like she was rarely, if ever, violent. The drunken frat boys and the addicts who were in the middle of a high a block away who follow and taunt random couples and women (don’t know if random men also got followed) were the ones who scared the beejeezus out of me.

  29. Anon for this*

    Please also be aware that your city police may not be able to do anything. Please read up on some of the ACLU rulings. In some places, courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to prevent people from panhandling. The police also, in some places can’t tell them to “move along.” If they are on the public sidewalk, there is not much that can be done if they aren’t breaking any laws. If they are physically in your private property vestibule then that is another story.

    To answer your actual question, businesses have found ways to make their sidewalk less attractive to the homeless. I do not support these ideas but they do exist. You know those spikes to keep pigeons off of street lamps? Some are installing those in front of their property – but they can’t install them on the public sidewalk. Lights, music, blown cold air from a vent are also other common tactics. Not that I support them.

    1. Naomi*

      My city government has replaced their bus benches with tiny stools so people can’t sleep on them. I really dislike it–it’s not like someone is going to be able to magically find a place to live because they can’t sleep on a bench.

      1. Natalie*

        Our state DOT did something similar with freeway underpasses, at the same time that they were cutting social services and local government aid budgets. Nice priorities, guys.

        1. Formica Dinette*

          Many years ago my city installed a statue of a person sleeping on top of a bench that real people used to sleep on. Talk about mean!

      2. Anonsie*

        There are some really insane seating arrangements at some bus stops to keep anyone from legitimately resting at them– it’s so asinine. Like, listen, I can’t sit on your stupid bum-high angled railing and it’s not doing me any good to lean on it, so at this point I think we’re in exactly same place we would be if there were a regular bench and someone was sleeping on it.

    2. neverjaunty*

      C’mon. If you’re going to suggest to OP that she ask her building management install spikes or air blowers, at least do so honestly. The “I can’t tell you how to do exactly this thing” was hilarious in The Incredibles. It’s not very funny here.

      1. Anon for this*

        I actually do not support those initiatives at all. I think they are awful. But they exist and she should know.

          1. Iro*

            That’s pretty unfair.

            I used my normal post name for this and I have had people since this post digging strongly at my other posts since this one in ways that have never been done on AAM before. I can’t blame people (who are anonymous anyway) for wanting to continue to have civil discussions about business without people “judging” them based on their unpopular view on this particular issue.

            I see it as declining to discuss politics in the workplace.

  30. Labratnomore*

    I agree that homeless people are not the issue here, but having strangers hanging out on your work property can be a little uncomfortable. I used to work at a retail store and would often open or close when it was dark out. There were many days where I would close, but I was not comfortable to walk to my car because there was a group of people hanging out in the parking lot. They were mostly just teenagers hanging out with their friends, but I was one person leaving a store with lots of cash and goodies inside. How was I to know if they were harmless or were there to cause trouble? It was also a general policy, supported by the sheriff, that if we ever felt unsafe to go outside when we were alone they would be happy to send a patrol officer over to walk us to our car. So she may not necessarily be trying to get the people in trouble by calling the police, just to ensure her safety because these unknown people are on her company’s property and she has no idea if what they are doing there. I just wanted to get that out there so people don’t forget that the OP has feelings here too and it is reasonable to be uncomfortable in that situation (again not because they are homeless, but because they are strangers).

    That said, if it is typically the same people I think it would be a great idea to get to know them. If they are there when other coworkers are present that may be an ideal time to go out and meet them. Then when you are alone they won’t seem so threatening. Like other said, these are your neighbors and if you get to know your neighbors you soon figure out who the nice ones are and which ones are the few bad apples on the block. Also it may be appropriate for the company to ask them to stay off to the side of the building instead of in the doorway area. If it is not the same people all the time, I think calling an outreach center would be an appropriate thing to do.

    1. TOC*

      I definitely agree with you that OP has a right to feel uncomfortable about coming and going in the dark with strangers around, and that requesting a police escort is okay in these situations. I know she’s not trying to get the people outside in trouble. But the good news is that in this instance, it’s probably a pretty small, consistent group of people outside. That offers OP the chance to approach this differently.

  31. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    When I was in college I worked at a local restaurant and was frequently walking home alone at 2am. Over the years, I learned the names of every homeless person who was a “regular” in that area. We also often gave them free coffee and didn’t try to stop them from using our bathroom.

    Walking home at 2am wasn’t so bad when around every corner, there was somebody saying “Hey Ashley! Good to see you! How are you tonight!?”. I felt safer knowing that the homeless folks knew and noticed me and I always felt like they would have helped me if something had happened.

    As we know, many homeless people have a mental illness, which might be untreated. I recently read that people with a mental illness are much more likely to be assaulted themselves than they are to assault someone else. OP feels vulnerable as a woman alone, the homeless people might feel vulnerable for other reasons. That’s a pretty big thing to have in common.

  32. Allison*

    While I know it’s not fair to be afraid of homeless people, that fear is so common that I can’t blame the OP, especially if she’s not from an area with a lot of homeless people, and/or has heard horror stories involving them, seen one too many news stories about someone being attacked, or has had a bad experience herself.

    I’m from a small town, so it did take me a little while to get used to seeing homeless people all the time, but you do learn that the violent people, sex offenders, and aggressive panhandlers make up a very small portion, and most homeless people are just trying to go about their business and aren’t going to bother anyone who isn’t bothering them.

    They do need a place to sleep, and many choose not to go to shelters for a variety of reasons (shelters fill up, some only allow women and children, some are unsafe, etc.), and they sleep in front of entrances to buildings because it gives them shelter, plus maybe a little more warmth than an alleyway might (I’m guessing a little heat might seep out of the building, I could be wrong). They will most likely leave you alone; they’re not schoolyard bullies who will demand your lunch money in the morning or yell at you for not helping them, although the occasional donation in the form of coffee, cash, or a small sandwich is a nice gesture.

    Plenty of people like to react by telling you that if you get fired, you’ll be in that situation and then we’ll see what you make of the stuck-up princesses afraid of you, but the reality is you’re probably not a paycheck away from sleeping on the streets. Many of us are fortunate to have income, to have at least some money saved up or credit we can use in an emergency, and many of us have family, friends, or significant others who can help us if we ever need a place to sleep, but we need to remember that not everyone has those resources.

    1. some1*

      As a smoker, I can guarantee that at least as far as panhandling cigarettes are concerned, not every homeless person panhandles and not every pandhandler is homeless.

      1. fposte*

        As far as any kind of panhandling is concerned. I think some reports here are assuming somebody is homeless because they’re panhandling, and I think that’s a leap.

    2. Beyonce Pad Thai*

      Many shelters also don’t allow pets, so they’re not an options for people who have a dog (or cat, in rare cases) with them!

      1. ella*

        Ditto married couples. I don’t think there are any shelters in my city that will allow couples to stay together. I know one couple that slept outside every night for exactly that reason.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Whatever portion of the homeless population might be violent, whatever a person’s previous experiences might be, we can’t say they’re wrong to feel a particular way, but I will say unequivocally that it is not OK for someone to lump “homeless people” together as a faceless, homogeneous group by their words or actions.

      Let’s say that a person was once assaulted by a black male homeless person wearing a ski hat. How would we feel if they said they felt uncomfortable when they encounter black people? Or men? Or men wearing ski hats?

      The fear is a human reaction, so I can’t blame anyone for just being afraid, but we cannot let our actions be ruled by those feelings, we need to use our reason to determine what part of it is reasonable and what part is unreasonable.

  33. Shell*

    I’ll admit upfront that my reaction is coloured by my own experience, but…

    When I was a lot younger, I remember running into a homeless man who was asking for money. I was with my parents, heading home after lunch out.

    The homeless guy saw us and came over to us as we were getting into our car (it was a strip mall with open parking, so he didn’t follow us very far). Came over to ask for money. When we turned him down, he started yelling, and physically latched onto our car shouting at the top of his lungs that he wasn’t going to let go until we gave him money and we can drive with him on our door or something.

    It scared the hell out of me, and freaked out my parents; my father gave him some money and the guy finally left (still clung to our door for several minutes after he got said money).

    If the OP has any experience like this, I absolutely understand being scared around homeless people. Are all of them like this? Of course not. But I don’t know which of them might be like this, and I will admit that when I go out and a homeless guy comes up to me, I get scared. Especially since a lot of them don’t seem to respect the personal space bubble and I feel cornered, even in broad daylight. If I’m in a downtown crowd in a stream of people? Okay. But if they single me out and I’m alone? Hell yeah I’m scared, and I don’t feel bad about it.

    There used to be a homeless guy hanging around the cafeteria at my alma mater; he was perfectly nice, perfectly quiet, never harassed anyone–I don’t think I’ve ever saw him ask anyone for money. The school paper even published a short article on him when it turned out he passed away. But the homeless people I run into day-to-day tend to be much more…erratic, especially when they’re yelling.

    1. Allison*

      The aggressive ones are certainly more visible, that’s for sure, and my city has a few of those too – although they’re more the type to tell you a (fake) sob story and then shame you for being heartless when you decide not to front their glaringly obvious heroine addiction, but I digress. I agree, being approached can make you uneasy at best.

      But if someone’s just sitting there, or walking around but not approaching anyone (walking, not pacing erratically), or better yet sleeping, they’re probably not the scary, aggressive type.

      1. Natalie*

        Probably just an autocorrect, but “heroine addiction” made me think of someone jonesing for romance novels.

        1. Allison*

          My mistake, I did spell it wrong but I am at work and it seems inappropriate to look up the correct spelling of the word. And I apologize for not having the correct spelling ingrained in my memory.

  34. Evan*

    With all due to respect to the numerous other posters here I am going to go against the grain on this one a little. It sort of feels like compassion for the plight of the homeless is getting in the way of giving this person good advice about their personal safety.

    The reality is we have no idea what type of people are sitting outside her doorway. They could be good people who are in a very difficult situation or they could be violent and deranged. (Please note, I am saying or implying that a large percentage of homeless people are violent and deranged. A percentage of people in all walks of life have the capacity for violence)

    If she had simply stated that there were people who regularly hung out outside her door didn’t belong there and made her feel unsafe would we recommend that the solution is to try to get to know them or offer them some coffee?

    I would provide three recommendations for you.
    1 – Start by trying to understand WHY you are uncomfortable with the people on your doorstep. Is it due to their appearance or condition, or is it some other factor such as their disposition or activities. If it is the former, than maybe you should think about if your concerns are rational.
    2 – When it comes to your personal safety, trust your instincts. People feel fear for a reason, it is a protection mechanism. If you are instinctively not comfortable with someone for any reason it is wise to stay away from them. Unless you are confident the person comprises no risk to you I certainly wouldn’t recommend reaching out to strangers on the street as a way to overcome your fears. Bad things happen to good people, don’t let that be you.
    3 – To directly answer your original question, it is likely that there is not much your employer can easily due to resolve the issue. If you feel at risk in this situation you really need to find a job somewhere where this isn’t an issue.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “If she had simply stated that there were people who regularly hung out outside her door didn’t belong there and made her feel unsafe would we recommend that the solution is to try to get to know them or offer them some coffee?”

      Well, if they’re the same people there every day, yes she should try to get to know them. It’s not their fault she feels unsafe – if they’re legally allowed to be there then they’re legally allowed to be there.

      1. Iro*

        The same group coming to your place of busines and hanging around outside early in the morning and late at night for no apparent reason and you think a lone female should try to get to know them? I’d have them carted off for loitering.

    2. fposte*

      “If she had simply stated that there were people who regularly hung out outside her door didn’t belong there and made her feel unsafe would we recommend that the solution is to try to get to know them or offer them some coffee?” If we knew it was because they had no place else to go, yes. If we didn’t know that, our answer would have been based on incomplete information. See also upthread conversations re: teens.

      “People feel fear for a reason, it is a protection mechanism.” Yes, but it’s not a good measure of risk–that’s where the human mind goes kablooey. We’re inclined to fear the unfamiliar and not the familiar, despite the fact that it’s the familiar that’s likeliest to harm us.

      1. Helka*

        “If she had simply stated that there were people who regularly hung out outside her door didn’t belong there and made her feel unsafe would we recommend that the solution is to try to get to know them or offer them some coffee?” If we knew it was because they had no place else to go, yes.

        This. People loitering without a visible reason for being there seem suspicious because we presume they must have a reason for being where they are — which by implication means that they have options on where to be. So if several people (who are not specified to be homeless) are hanging out around the entrance of what sounds like it’s not a customer-serving building — we assume they have some interest in the building, its contents, or the people who work there, otherwise they would be at work/at home. Add in the information that they’re homeless — that gives us insight that they do not have work or home to be at, and further insight as to what their priorities are.

        1. Evan*

          The fact that they have nowhere else to go has no real bearing on if they pose a safety risk to the OP. The point is we just don’t know. It is just as much a fallacy to assume that all homeless people are harmless as it is to assume that all homeless people are dangerous.

          1. fposte*

            Of course it has bearing–why they’re there is always going to be significant. People who are there to protest your workplace are going to be very different from people who are there to apply for a job. A group of six-year-olds who’ve broken free from their caretaker is going to be different from a group of felons who walked away from work release.

            These people aren’t there for nefarious purpose. That doesn’t mean they can’t be annoying or troublesome, but they’re also not a monolith any more than any other group, so assuming that they’re going to develop dangerous behaviors merely because of the category they’re in is wrong-headed.

            1. Chinook*

              “People who are there to protest your workplace are going to be very different from people who are there to apply for a job. ”

              This 100% In fact, a lot of the people who protest my workplace often look homeless after a few days of protests (not snark – I am always amazed how ultra-environmentalists who make the news often seem to need to take a shower, brush their hair and feel the need to camp out at the protest sites in shacks made of recycled materials picked up off the street. Maybe the ones who look like your average Canadian – clean and well kept – don’t make good press?)

          2. neverjaunty*

            Nobody has said that all homeless people are harmless or that OP is silly and shouldn’t have a thought for her safety.

    3. Allison*

      “It sort of feels like compassion for the plight of the homeless is getting in the way of giving this person good advice about their personal safety.”

      Maybe, but I do think there’s some value in trying to give her a little piece of mind.

      1. Evan*

        “Maybe, but I do think there’s some value in trying to give her a little piece of mind.”

        The problem is, with the amount of information we have, peace of mind may not be the appropriate thing to have.

    4. Jen*

      “The reality is we have no idea what type of people are sitting outside her doorway. They could be good people who are in a very difficult situation or they could be violent and deranged.”

      Exactly this. Homelessness is a serious problem, and can happen to anyone, good and bad people. While a lot of the previous comments take the stance that they are just people like anyone else, and the OP has no reason to be afraid, the fact of the matter is there are some homeless people who will harass others or even be violent. I have been harassed by a few in my lifetime, my mother was accosted by two at two different points in her life (once with a knife – thankfully she managed to get into a room and lock the door behind her), and I’ve known a few others (heck we had a situation here a few years ago when someone was dropping off goods at a shelter and got roughed up). It happens, and the OPs fears aren’t totally unfounded.

      I would suggest the OP does what they can to insure their own safety (learn a few things about what to do if you are attacked, consider carrying pepper spray, be sure to call/text someone when you leave/arrive work so someone else knows where you are, etc). And talk to her employers, and see what they say, they may well be willing to help, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. Perhaps better lighting, maybe ask if they would consider a security person during those hours come by (and maybe even some other nearby business would be willing to chip in for one to drive through the area – I worked a temp job in a area with a half dozen business that did this). Also talk to others in the community and ask for advice on how to handle this sort of situation – they may have ideas no one else has come up with.

      1. Zillah*

        But everything you’re saying could be said of another group: men. Most women, I think, at least in my country, have experienced multiple situations in which a man made them feel threatened or afraid – street harassment at best, and sexual assault/rape at worst. It’s a serious problem. I’ve had a few experiences with street harassment that made me feel really threatened and scared.

        Consequently, I get really tense when a strange man tries to talk to me when I’m on the train/bus/street, before I even hear what he’s saying. I think many women have the same reaction. What’s much less common is getting tense and frightened because men are existing in public.

        I mean, look: it’s absolutely true that the homeless people the OP is talking about could be good people or violent and deranged. But that’s true of everyone – there are plenty of violent people who have homes. So why see homeless people as automatically more threatening? It doesn’t make sense.

        1. Anonsie*

          I don’t think you have to believe homeless people are more threatening to be uncomfortable, though. I’m more apt to be sympathetic and give the benefit if the doubt to a group of homeless people parked outside the door than a group of randos who seem to have no reason to be there, but that doesn’t mean any sense of caution I may have for approaching the homeless folks is going to evaporate completely.

          1. Zillah*

            Sure, absolutely – you shouldn’t assume that everyone who’s homeless is a good or safe person. However, I feel like there’s more caution showed toward them than toward other groups, including those who are more likely to be a threat.

            1. Anonsie*

              Yeah, there definitely is. But I wouldn’t jump to say that having concerns or going in cautiously is necessarily misguided or discriminatory, either. It’s wise to go in carefully with anyone.

      2. aebhel*

        Honestly, I’ve had much scarier experiences with well-dressed young college men than with homeless people. Any group of strangers has the potential to be violent. A homeless person is much more likely than the general population to be dirty, to smell bad, to be mentally ill and therefore behaving oddly, to be hanging out in a place where they have no particular reason to be. None of that makes them more of an actual threat than the general population, but it does make the average person more uncomfortable around them, and that makes it easier to perceive them as a threat.

        I think what people are saying is to separate her discomfort with homeless people from those who are actually behaving in a threatening manner–not to assume that every homeless person is an angel. Focus on behaviors, not appearances.

    5. Melissa*

      “It sort of feels like compassion for the plight of the homeless is getting in the way of giving this person good advice about their personal safety.” – Perhaps, but people have already said all three of the things you gave as recommendations.

      I also have to say that I kind of disagree with #2. People feel fear for a reason, but it’s not always a legitimate protective reason. A lot of the fear that people feel for homeless people has a lot to do with stereotypes and inaccurate media depictions of them as disturbed and dangerous. Some fear is useful and protective and some fear isn’t. I don’t mean to suggest that OP shouldn’t have her guard up – but not any more than she would around any other strange people hanging out around her company.

  35. Celeste*

    I do agree with all of the compassion shown here towards homeless people. I agree with not having abject fear of people who are homeless, and I can totally empathize with being alone and having to confront people who are sleeping at your entrance and blocking you.

    However my question for the OP is, have you ever just told your management about what’s happening? It sounds like you have tried to solve it by yourself with the phone calls to the police. Speak up from a place of sharing information they may not have. Maybe the neighborhood has changed. Maybe there is someplace else you can work from. Maybe lighting and security are insufficient. I don’t know if customers come to this location, but if so then that a consideration. I know it feels like it’s your problem, but at base it’s their workplace, and they need to have this information.

    1. The IT Manager*

      +1 I liked Alison’s answer and agree there seemed to be unwarrranted terror (based on the descripton of the situation), but in the letter I did notice she’s asking for advice on how to ask her employer at the home office to do something about this. Have you just asked yet?

      The advice of figuring out why the homeless congregte at that entrance and doing something to make it less appealling is a good one, but I think you can simply let your employer know that there’s a problem and ask if they can do anything about it? Likely the changes would be the responsibility of the building manager.

      1. LMW*

        +1. The real question was: Can I ask my employer to do something about this situation, which makes me feel unsafe, and, if so, how do I do that? And that isn’t really being addressed here.

        Does you company have anyone who manages security or risk? They might have that title or it might be a building manager (but not all building managers handle security as part of their role). If not, your manager or HR might be a good place to start. You don’t need to go into all the details you provide here, but you can just ask the general question about how to handle loiterers on or blocking access to company property or if there’s anything they can do to discourage loitering in front of the building. There might not be, especially if they don’t have anyone who handles security or risk. (I have a feeling the call-the-police thing has arisen from this question already. Every company I have worked for would have said to call security or the police rather than asking strangers to leave the property. I’ve never worked anywhere that would put that burden on employees.)

  36. Jennifer*

    I have been physically grabbed on the street by homeless people. Specifically because I was a lone female walking in their vicinity. I also had a coworker who used to befriend a homeless guy in front of work and gave him money. Until the day she didn’t have any to give and he just completely lost it on her.

    Unfortunately, you don’t know which homeless people are ah…. going to do that or not. It’s one thing if they aren’t bothering you, but quite another if they are, or if you have to bother them so you can open the door in the morning. OP doesn’t know if these guys are going to lose it on her or not in the morning when she’s all alone in the dark with no defense.

    1. soitgoes*

      I agree. The overlap between mental illness and homelessness is not negligible. I’m not saying that all homeless people are mentally ill or have a propensity toward violence, but it ignores a lot of hard data to be all idealistic and claim that they’d never do the OP harm. They very well might, especially if they’re already making a point of being in front of the office after being asked several times not to hang out there anymore. These things escalate in very (unfortunately) predictable ways sometimes.

      1. Melissa*

        True! I have been physically grabbed by (male) strangers who I do not think were homeless, simply because I was female.

    2. LBK*

      How is that not true of any other random person, though? I don’t have the stats to know if there truly is a significantly higher rate of violent behavior amongst homeless people, but the rate of violent behavior from people who aren’t homeless also isn’t zero.

      If you’re worried that every stranger you encounter might attack you, how do you leave your house every day and interact with the public?

      1. Us, Too*

        Well, sure. But how often in daily life do you have to confront a random stranger, alone, in the dark to get them to stop sleeping or cooking or urinating or just hanging out in your doorway so that you can pass and go on about your business? This really isn’t just “normal” street interaction with a stranger for most people. I’ve never done it and I’ve lived in 500k+ population cities for most of my life.

        This isn’t someone just walking by randomly that you accidentally bump into and say “excuse me”, you know?

        So although I wouldn’t use the term “terrified” I do think some degree of fear/caution is likely warranted here.

        1. fposte*

          But it doesn’t *have* to be different–you can say “excuse me” to person A and “excuse me” to person B without regard to whether they’re blocking you standing up or sitting down. You may feel different about each because of variyng differentials in height or gender or privilege or familiarity or location other aspects of the situation, sure. I don’t think anybody’s saying it’s wrong for the OP to be uncomfortable.

          1. Us, Too*

            I don’t know, it COULD be different. For example, we don’t know if “excuse me” is all it would take. I think there may be too little detail from OP to judge. I see a huge difference between a homeless guy sitting on a bench 3 feet from the door and the guy who pitches a tent and blocks the door completely with it. Or is drunk, etc. It’s hard to judge how and if it would be different without that kind of detail.

            Again, I don’t know that “terrified” is warranted, but I wouldn’t necessarily assume that a simple “excuse me” will resolve the matter, either.

            1. fposte*

              We don’t *ever* know if a simple “excuse me” would suffice, though. But we don’t have any reason to think that it won’t here, and that’s where you start.

              We can always catastrophize, and say that it’s dangerous because they’re men, or they’re of a particular race, or a particular age. But you start with “Excuse me.”

            2. LBK*

              I find it really hard to believe that we’re talking about someone setting up a tent or a bed of some sort there, despite the OP using the phrase “camping out”. I’m assuming that’s an idiom for them sitting/laying near the entrance, but maybe I’m wrong – I’m not envision a miniature tent city that she has to ask them to deconstruct every day so she can get to work.

              1. Us, Too*

                This happens where I live. It’s not just a homeless guy sitting there. When we talk about homeless people “setting up camp” it’s a guy with a shopping cart, his dog, a cooler and several milk crates or boxes of stuff. I’ve even seen tents and/or those small overhead shade things like people use at the beach or tailgating parties. Seriously! Police tend to cut down on the latter at least.

  37. soitgoes*

    It may not be PC, but I think the OP is raising a legitimate concern: she is a woman who has to open and close an office by herself when it’s dark out, and men she doesn’t know have made a habit of camping out there, even after being asked not to do so. The last paragraph indicates that sometimes they resist when asked to move, to the extent that she loses time due to not being able to enter her workplace.

    I think she would have mentioned it if she had ever encountered someone who harmed her or seemed unwell, but I don’t think it’s necessarily okay to pile on a woman who is asking for help in removing the perceived threat of strange men who are not respectfully keeping their distance. This is one of those interesting occurrences of intersectionality: at what point does her comfort and feeling of safety as a woman become outweighed by sympathy for the homeless?

    1. fposte*

      Isn’t she the one who’s not respectfully keeping a distance, though, since they’re there before she gets there? She hasn’t described being approached in any way. I also think we’re addressing the “perceived” in that “perceived threat” and pointing out that it’s not necessarily a reliable perception, especially based on what’s been described.

      1. soitgoes*

        I don’t know how she can be expected to keep a respectable distance when she’s the one who’s authorized to be on the private property and has no choice but to approach the homeless people who are blocking the front door. I really don’t think the burden to maintain a respectable distance is on the OP. It’s on the people who are trespassing.

        1. fposte*

          But what does “respectful distance” mean, then? Are men required to scatter like chickens if a woman approaches in order to maintain “respectful distance”?

          I guess I’m not seeing how the respectful distance concept works here (or maybe anywhere, now that I think about it). “It’s rude to harass strangers” is a reasonable rule about distance, but these people aren’t harassing or approaching her. They’re not being disrespectful or presenting a threat. They’re just where they are when she approaches.

          1. Chinook*

            “They’re not being disrespectful or presenting a threat. They’re just where they are when she approaches.”

            But they are being disrespectful to her right to earn a living by blocking access to her job. The alternative is for her to be late opening the office because she has to wait for the person blocking the door to wake up, pack up and leave. This can directly affect whether or not she remains employed. As well, she has been given the right to be on the private property whereas the sleeping person has not (because property rights are a rule of law). A person’s rights end where another person’s begins. As well, the homeless person can find a spot to sleep elsewhere or wake up earlier whereas the OP has to open that particular door at that particular time as a condition of employment.

            I am not saying she should be rude about it or escalate it to the police but it is also unreasonable to expect her to keep a respectufl distance from someone who is not being respectful of her right to work.

        2. Sunflower*

          This seems like equal issue of ‘i’m scared of homeless people’ and ‘these homeless people are hindering my ability to get to work’

          I can only speak to what I think you should do about them blocking your door.

          If they are blocking the entry way, I would talk to your employer and address it as if anyone else was blocking your building. It’s important to note that whether it be homeless people or girl scouts selling cookies, blocking an entryway is a nuisance and just not okay. It’s really not OP’s job to tell people to move- it’s an entry way, there shouldn’t be anything blocking it. Also, is this a potential OSHA/Safety hazard? I mean, if there’s a fire and someone has physical materials blocking an entrance way that has gotta be a serious concern

  38. Mimmy*

    I haven’t read all of the responses yet and do not wish to pile on the OP. This was a hard one for me to read. Although not my own professional area of interest, homelessness is a one of the main areas of focus for one of the councils I sit on. Yet, although I completely support the efforts my county are making in reaching out and offering resources / changing the service delivery system long-term, I personally still get nervous around homeless people. I know they’re generally not violent, but some of them do come across a bit sketchy to me. I know, I know….that’s my own personal issue. Part of it is me feeling vulnerable because I’m petite and I don’t see or hear too well.

    All of that being said, I think Alison and her friend’s answer was very thoughtful.

    The one thing I DO agree with the OP is the fact that she feels they are blocking entry to her office….if I’m reading this right, the homeless person(s) are camped out in FRONT of her door and she has to ask them to move for her to get in. As I said above, I am petite and female, and absolutely do not like being anywhere alone, especially in the dark. So I think her concerns are somewhat warranted. Maybe she could ask her office to program the light to turn on at a certain point before she arrives and and to stay on until after she leaves. As someone else suggested above, it might hint to these individuals that it is time to move on for the day.

    1. Saucy Minx*

      Maybe the OP could tell her manager she is not feeling safe working OT hours in the office & will in future be coming in at 8 & leaving at 5, w/ any OT to be done from the safety of her home.

  39. YouSaucyMinx*

    When I was just 21, I got my first job in a major city, in a not so great part of town. i had always volunteered at shelters, so had no inherent fear of the homeless. I would try (as much as my teeny salary allowed) to buy donuts or coffees and give them out to the homeless near my building as often as I could.

    One night I had to work very late, and didn’t leave my building until after midnight. The walk to the subway was pitch black and scary, and with good reason. Some guy (in a business suit, so not homeless) shoved me against a wall and took my purse and took off running.

    I yelped and outright cowered like a wuss, then heard some voices yelling. When I looked up, 2 of the homeless guys I gave coffee too had chased the guy in the suit down, knocked him over, and were holding him down. They gave me my purse back and told me to call the cops–they’d hold the guy there.

    Moral of the story: all people have the potential to be awful, professional or homeless. And all people have the potential to be heroes, homeless or not. Be kind to all.

  40. Mariette*

    After reading the letter, I was sure that all the comments would be yelling at the OP for being afraid of homeless people. I was glad to see that this is not the case. I can understand OP’s fear. If you’ve never come in contact with the homeless before, and then there they are at your office’s front door (blocking it? That would make me even more nervous), it would be scary. I think Allison (and her friend) gave OP some good advice, as did many of the comments. OP, I agree that these people probably aren’t dangerous. I wouldn’t get overly scared, but I would be careful and on my guard.

  41. Nerd Girl*

    Apparently my interactions with the homeless vary wildly from the other readers here today. I worked in Boston years ago and I cannot tell you how many times I was accosted by a homeless person after saying Hello or making eye contact. One person, a man who stood close to a foot taller than me and outweighed me by at least 50 pounds, followed myself and another employee for well over 4 blocks, shouting racial slurs at my co-worker and demanding money from me. This took place at 6 PM. Another person cornered me in the stairwell of a train station and robbed me. I saw him three days later being arrested in a different station for the same crime.
    I agree that not all homeless are horrible people but my interactions have colored my perspective and I don’t think I would be all sunshine and flowers with a homeless person.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I think the point though is that these people in particular have not given any indication that they’re violent or intimidating. So while there absolutely may be violent and dangerous homeless people out there, there’s no reason to believe that these people are violent and dangerous.

    2. Hous*

      I’m in Boston and tend to spend a lot of time in places with a lot of homeless people around (both my workplace and my brother’s workplace) and while I’ve had the kinds of bad experiences you mention, it’s worth remembering that these encounters stand out because they’re bad. But when I compare the number of times I’ve felt genuinely unsafe in these places (probably about three or four) in the course of visiting them probably six days a week for three years, it’s just really not that much. I’m not really the type to talk to strangers (incredibly introverted), so the “make friends of them” advice is not something I’d ever be able to do, but it’s easy to feel nervous about these kinds of situations because of a few bad experiences, just because we forget all the times that absolutely nothing went wrong.

  42. ohword*

    What are all these people talking about befriending strange men that you encounter alone in the dark?!
    I’m not trying to be rude, and sure homeless people are down on their luck and all, but a lot also have drug problems and mental health issues. Yesterday there was a guy outside a pizza shop asking for a dollar to get something to eat. I didn’t have cash and bought him a slice. When I handed it to him, he says “I said a dollar, bitch!” and just throws it on the floor. Imagine trying to strap your 3 year old into his car seat with a ranting, pizza throwing guy 10 feet away from you.

    I feel for you, OP.

    1. some1*

      A lot of people who have a place to live have drug problems, mental health issues, and swear in public.

      1. soitgoes*

        To be fair, the people who have homes do not tend to also sleep in front of the entrances to offices.

        1. fposte*

          Right, but I saw some1’s point as being that it’s a leap to say this behavior is what homeless people do, given that it’s what a lot of people do.

          There’s also a whole lot of confirmation bias in the “some guy yelled at me” stories, given that “some guy said nothing to me and I didn’t even notice him” isn’t likely to be reported.

          1. soitgoes*

            When it comes to personal safety, I don’t think it’s wrong to have ideas that aren’t perfectly politically correct. Everything’s fine when people are acting as they should, but if one of these homeless people does turn violent or irrational, the OP shouldn’t be pressured to act like she didn’t think it was a possibility the whole time. I don’t think it’s fair to expect people who’ve had bad experiences with the homeless to overcome that trauma and pressure them to keep trying to be kind and open-minded. I once had a homeless person pull a knife on me for no reason. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to talk to homeless people ever again if I can help it. I don’t care if it’s prejudiced and unfair. I get to value my own safety over the hurt feelings of the people who are trespassing on private property.

              1. soitgoes*

                Those people do not hang out in front of the OP’s (and my) workplaces in the morning before the sun is up. Find me one person who lives indoors who is sleeping in front of an office at 9 AM.

                1. some1*

                  Okay, so say the guy who pulled a knife on you had brown hair. I don’t think you decided every brunette was dangerous after that. To me, you have as much basis for thinking that as assuming the homeless are dangerous.

                2. soitgoes*

                  This isn’t the time or place for this discussion, but I’d like you to google the direct correlation between mental illness, violent behavior, and homelessness. It’s really uncomfortable to talk about, but it doesn’t do to ignore reality. Perhaps start with the wikipedia article titled “homelessness and mental health.” Quote: “It is estimated that 20-25% of homeless people, compared with 6% of the non-homeless, have severe mental illness.” In short, there is a very concrete reason why some (not all) of these people are unable to work, live, and generally function as typical members of society.

                  I think it’s deliberately obtuse to cast judgment on me, the OP, or anyone else who is not interested in dealing with people who have a 1 in 4 chance of having a mental illness that is not being treated.

                  And I must clarify that I am not casting aspersions upon the mentally ill either, only defending my position of avoiding people who are incredibly likely to have an illness that is not being treated or managed in any way (I presume that most people, illness or not, would agree that untreated illness is a whole different animal than one that is being properly managed).

                3. Zillah*

                  This isn’t the time or place for this discussion, but I’d like you to google the direct correlation between mental illness, violent behavior, and homelessness. It’s really uncomfortable to talk about, but it doesn’t do to ignore reality. Perhaps start with the wikipedia article titled “homelessness and mental health.” Quote: “It is estimated that 20-25% of homeless people, compared with 6% of the non-homeless, have severe mental illness.” In short, there is a very concrete reason why some (not all) of these people are unable to work, live, and generally function as typical members of society.

                  I don’t think anyone is going to dispute that homeless people are far more likely to have serious mental illnesses than people who aren’t homeless. That’s not a coincidence – that’s a consequence of a health care system that can make getting treatment for a serious mental illness difficult or impossible, particularly if you don’t come from a fairly well-off family.

                  But having a serious mental illness, untreated or not, is not the same thing as being violent. I’d like to see some non-wikipedia statistics supporting your assertion that people with mental illnesses are more likely to be violent – because that is what you’re saying.

                4. aebhel*

                  soitgoes, mental illness–even severe, untreated mental illness–does not correlate with increased violent behavior. Quite the opposite, in fact.

                  It does correlate pretty highly with weird behavior, which we’re more likely to perceive as threatening because it breaks the social norms, but that’s not the same thing as increased violence.

                5. JAL*

                  1-5% of people who have severe mental illnesses are violent. That includes ones with or without homes.

            1. fposte*

              I think you’re talking about two different things and treating them as if they’re the same.

              If you were attacked by a homeless or blue or Volvo-driving person, I would totally understand why you would be rattled by homeless or blue or Volvo-driving individuals.

              But that doesn’t make you more in danger from them. It doesn’t change your risk. It doesn’t prove that they are especially dangerous compared to the rest of the population. That’s not about what’s PC, that’s about risk assessment.

              1. soitgoes*

                If a someone made a point of parking a Volvo in front of my office every morning after being asked several times to stop, even after having had the cops called on him several times, I would be afraid of that Volvo driver.

                1. fposte*

                  You can even be afraid of Volvos because you see one that keeps exceeding the speed limit, or you’re frightened by boxiness. That’s your prerogative.

                  But it doesn’t make Volvo drivers as a whole a threat to you.

                2. soitgoes*

                  She’s not saying that she hates all homeless people. She’s scared of the ones who refuse to hang out elsewhere. If a woman asks a man to please respect her space and he does not do so, that woman has a right to be scared. She would be an idiot if she did not recognize that a threatening breach of security was occurring.

                3. Zillah*

                  She’s not saying that she hates all homeless people. She’s scared of the ones who refuse to hang out elsewhere. If a woman asks a man to please respect her space and he does not do so, that woman has a right to be scared. She would be an idiot if she did not recognize that a threatening breach of security was occurring.

                  But there’s no indication that I can see that she’s asked them anything, or even that these are the same people. They’re not refusing to respect her space if she hasn’t even asked them, and it’s not really quite “her” space anyway.

                4. Cat*

                  But it would not actually be reasonable to ask a blue Volvo driver to park on a public street because of your prior bad experience, nor to call the cops on the Volvo driver. Similar issue here.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Oh good grief. This is not about “political correctness”. This is about realistically assessing a potential threat and taking appropriate action to deal with an uncomfortable situation. (Calling homeless outreach is not simply a “PC” thing to do. It is a way to solve OP’s problem.)

              So sad that we have gotten to a point in discourse where any expression of compassion for others less fortunate, however slight or qualified, gets shouted down as “politically correct”.

              1. Heather*

                we have gotten to a point in discourse where any expression of compassion for others less fortunate, however slight or qualified, gets shouted down as “politically correct”

                +1 million.

              2. aebhel*

                This. Calling the police is unkind, but more to the point, it won’t actually solve her problem. Calling homeless outreach might.

          2. ohword*

            The facts, from what we know, are multiple homeless people block access to her workplace constantly and she is alone in the dark when this happens. I don’t know why people are telling her to go visit a homeless shelter. She already has a job.

            1. fposte*

              Right. That’s annoying. But she didn’t say she was annoyed, she said she was “terrified.” That’s a response that suggests deeper understanding might be helpful. I get that she may not want to take on a volunteering position (though I think many people with jobs do volunteer, so I’m not sure what “she already has a job” means), but the notion that being more familiar with people you find terrifying is likely to diminish your fear seems pretty legitimate to me.

              1. some1*

                Even if she doesn’t want to volunteer to help the homeless, IMO contacting an org that helps the homeless could very well work with her to actually find a solution and alleviate her concerns.

            2. some1*

              A lot of employed people (like commenters on this thread) work full time and choose to volunteer at homeless shelters in their free time.

              1. Ohword*

                That’s good for them, really. I am glad there are people out there who want to help. However, from what I understand, OP is trying to go to work, go pick up her kids, and go home. She is just trying to figure out how to politely navigate around multiple homeless people blocking access to her job while she is alone in the dark. She’s not out of line to feel unsafe or even terrified.

                1. LBK*

                  Maybe I’m wrong but my impression was that going through homeless outreach programs would be a way to get them removed permanently – if these people get placed in shelters or otherwise provided with assistance that will give them something to do and somewhere to be, won’t that solve the problem by removing the need for them to hang around the OP’s office every morning? Presumably they aren’t there just because it’s a hip spot to chill with your friends.

              2. Garland*

                But they obviously want to do that. OP is under no obligation to volunteer at a shelter, and I admit I’m rather annoyed at all the comments suggesting that she do that.

                1. Treena Kravm*

                  I think what everyone is saying (in a much more kind tone than I’ll use here) is that it’s her obligation to be a decent human being. If she’s so terrified of homeless people, it’s probably because she holds some really inaccurate or bigoted views. It’s on her to figure out her privilege and assumptions and being at a shelter might help change that.

                2. Salyan*

                  This reply is for Treena Kravm:
                  Wow. Being scared now makes someone a bigot? Or means they’re believing a lie? That’s pretty harsh…

    2. WednesdaysMisfit*

      I’ve had a few similar experiences and as a result, I don’t give out money anymore. I do donate money every month to several organizations that do a lot of homeless outreach work.

  43. ProductiveDyslexic*

    The OP’s asking “what should my employer do?” reminds me that last year a very large UK supermarket chain (Tesco, not known for its ethical stance) hit the headlines for installing “anti-homeless spikes” on the floor and on ledges outside its shop on Regent Street (upmarket shopping street) in London.

    This generated widespread outrage. The spikes were concreted over by protesters, and eventually Tesco removed them due to the terrible publicity they generated.

  44. Bill*

    I think a lot of commenters are being unfair to OP. It’s great that you’re an extrovert who can make friends with everyone on the street, but not all of us are like that. As someone who finds it awkward to talk to new people who I have actual business dealings with, I can’t imagine working up the courage to wake someone up from a sound sleep in order to tell them to leave. Whatever the reason, this person is in OPs space in way that is uncomfortable and not acceptable. She should have options that don’t just consist of “shame on you for hating the less fortunate.”

    1. Katie the Fed*

      She does have options – Alison outlined them. And she could also carry pepper spray which is probably a good idea for any woman working in an isolated or possibly dangerous place.

      Literally NOBODY has shamed the OP or accused her of hating the less fortunate – that’s something you’ve come up with. What people have tried to do is urge her to have a bit of compassion and attempt to be pleasant to them instead of treating them like criminals. That’s a big difference.

      1. fposte*

        And I’m an introvert myself, but I think it’s a lot more awkward to have no place else but a doorway to sleep than it is to say “Excuse me, can I get past you?”

        I mean, I do get it. It’s uncomfortable in some very profound ways to be confronted with the fact that there are so many people who don’t have something as basic as shelter and to know that you have something big that they don’t. But introversion doesn’t confer any particular rights to avoid stuff.

    2. LBK*

      So, out of curiosity, if two random non-homeless people were standing in front of the door to the building and blocking you from getting in, what would you do? Just silently stand there until they decided to move? I’m assuming despite your introversion you’d be able to muster the courage to ask them to step out of the way. That’s all you have to do, because homeless people are still people, not wild animals.

      1. Us, Too*

        There is quite a bit of difference between tapping two folks on the shoulder who are “standing in front of the door” and waking someone up who has “set up a camp” (per OP).

        1. LBK*

          I agree to an extent but my point is, sometimes regardless of your introversion you have to interact with other humans as a factor of living your life. I don’t buy that it’s a valid excuse here, because as far as I’m aware introversion is about interaction with any people. It doesn’t scale with the scariness of the people.

  45. Marzipan*

    The way I respond to homeless people in my city is to smile; nod hello; catch their eye and acknowledge them. I can understand that this may seem frightening if you’re already frightened of the people involved – what if they expect more from you? – but I’ve never had any problems as a result of doing this. I get smiles, and thank-yous, and told God bless and to have a good day. My logic is, so many people just put their head down and look away that it must be an incredibly dehumanising experience to be a homeless person, and I would rather not contribute to that feeling.

  46. TotesMaGoats*

    I’ve struggled with what to comment on this post and this is what I’ve come up with.

    I understand the fear OP. One of my facilities rents out space to external groups on a regular basis. Think off-site trainings. One of these groups is DOD affiliated. So, these people know about regulations for entering a building, badging in and what not. Still, for several weeks, I would come upstairs into a dark hallway to open up and find people sitting in the hallway waiting for me to open up. Seriously. Not waiting in the brightly lit lobby but in the dark hallway. Freaked me out and we changed our policy. So, I get the fear.

    I would also say that you’ve covered a lot of your fear with things about productivity and getting your work done. Which are true but at the root, you are afraid of the homeless people around your building. You need to address that. There is a lot of great advice here about ways to do it and what to do in this situation but you won’t get very far if you don’t look at why you are so terrified. Maybe you’ve got a reason in your past that colors the situation. Sharing that with us can help us understand and tailor our advice. All of that said, the problem is not what to do about the homeless people, the problem to address is how you feel about them, what you are going to do to address it and how you are going to treat another human being in a respectful way.

    I hope no one considers this too negative. I really struggled with my reaction to the OP on this one because my first reaction was not good at all.

  47. Joey*

    Sorry, I’m less sympathetic. There are real negative impacts to the business that no one has mentioned.

    Look, I’m all for sympathizing that someone is homeless, but living in my place of business isn’t the answer. Coming to the office and seeing a trail of dried urine or having to pick up someone’s trash is disgusting. Nor is it good for business.

    I know there isnt enough help for the homeless, but living on a businesses property that isn’t welcoming isn’t the answer.

    And trespassing is a thing. Not to mention going to the bathroom in public. Im not sure I buy the “police have more important things to do” argument. Plenty of communities cite increased crime activity when they implement panhandler and other homeless nuisance type laws.

    Although maybe I’m biased because ive seen too many homeless people knocking on my car window when I stop at a light, pissing in public, passed out with a bottle of cheap booze, etc

    1. LBK*

      I’m not totally clear on where they’re located, though. If this is in a city and the homeless people are sleeping on the sidewalk, I don’t think that’s “business property”. It’s not like they’re breaking into the office and sleeping in the lobby. We’d have to have more details for me to be confident that this is really impacting the business or qualifies as trespassing.

      1. Joey*

        “Set up camp in front of my office door”

        Besides whether it’s technically the business owners property or the public sidewalk is moot. The issues are the same. No business owner should be expected to allow someone to eat, sleep, piss and generally trash the area around his business.

        1. Helka*

          Thing is that business owners have a pretty limited right to dictate what happens on public space around their business. The sidewalk belongs to everyone.

          1. Chinook*

            “Thing is that business owners have a pretty limited right to dictate what happens on public space around their business. The sidewalk belongs to everyone.”

            But the business owner may have a legal obligation to keep the public space in front of their business in good, working order. I don’t know abotu the city here but, back home, the owners of businesses and homes are the ones required to clear snow, ice and garbage from their walkways in less than 24 hours or the city will do the work for them and charge them for the service as well as with a fine.

    2. fposte*

      It’s interesting, because in the library field the homeless are always living at your place of business. And yet the active awareness and planning for that has meant they’re not that likely to be a problem–they were mostly a problem when the problem was defined as their being present in the library at all. (Libraries are a really good place to see how being troublesome is not restricted to any particular population.)

        1. fposte*

          Right, I know you did. And one thing that’s been happening a lot in libraries is to put those issues in perspective and find ways to serve the homed and homeless as best as they can. (I’d also swap it around and say that most issues with homelessness were body odor and sleeping, which aren’t likely to hurt the OP.)

      1. Mimmy*

        There’s a small but growing trend of libraries actually providing social services to homeless patrons, usually via social workers. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll try to find where I saw that.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      “Look, I’m all for sympathizing that someone is homeless, but living in my place of business isn’t the answer. Coming to the office and seeing a trail of dried urine or having to pick up someone’s trash is disgusting. Nor is it good for business. ”

      OK….but the OP didn’t mention any of that. Those are different issues.

        1. esra*

          You can associate litter + other issues with a lot of people, not just homeless people. If OP had mentioned the issues you have here, the responses would be different.

        2. Heather*

          Personally, I associate those issues with drunken frat boys. That doesn’t justify my assuming that fraternity brothers as a whole have a history of peeing on the sidewalk or tossing beer cans out the car window.

          1. aebhel*

            This. My old office was right across the street from a bunch of college bars and the condition the stairwells were in come Monday morning was utterly disgusting. Trash everywhere, urine and feces smeared on the wall, broken glass…every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning. Didn’t give us the right to ban frat boys from the streets, though.

    4. Anon for this*

      And when they ” implement panhandler and other homeless nuisance type laws” they are frequently found to be unconstitutional.

        1. sam*

          It’s generally covered by the first amendment. People have the right to merely exist in public spaces, even if we find their presence bothersome. “Aggressive panhandling” is different and can generally be prohibited by law, because that often crosses the line from speech/assembly/existing in public to disturbing the peace or assault.

          (or attempted assault if you’re in New York, where for some reason “assault”, which under common law means “attempted battery” has been re-defined to actually mean “battery” and so we have “attempted assault” here to make up for the fact that we define “assault” wrong in the first place).

        2. ella*

          Yes. I’ve seen municipal laws targeting other aspects of behavior commonly associated with homelesseness (loitering on medians, urban camping, handing out food, etc), but as far as I know I’ve never heard of a law against asking for money. They may exist in places where I haven’t spent time, or they may exist but not be enforced.

    5. aebhel*

      Okay, but none of that was actually the OP’s question. She’s concerned about her safety. People here have given her advice for dealing with that concern and managing her own safety. “There are homeless people and they exist in public” is a concern, I think, that is beyond the scope of this blog.

  48. C Average*

    I am honestly curious: how many of you have been in a situation similar to this yourselves, and how does that color your responses? (I know some of you have already answered this question upthread, and your answers are really interesting, hence the question.)

    For several years I worked in a very busy downtown Portland Starbucks location, and was one of two openers who had to clock in at 4 a.m. It was often two petite women opening together, and there would often be homeless people near the entrance, though they never actually blocked the entrance.

    We did not befriend them, but we also didn’t confront them, call the cops, etc. We navigated around them with as wide a berth as we could, and we watched each other’s back and had a cell phone at the ready when we were opening the door. We locked that door behind us as swiftly as we could.

    The people camped outside were familiar to us individually. Though they gave no indication of being dangerous, they did small things that made our jobs less pleasant. They panhandled from customers, dug empty cups out of the trash and came inside pretending they were customers and demanding refills in a loud and sometimes confrontational way, they stole merchandise, they used up items that had been intended for customers (items from the condiment bar, etc.), and they sometimes incited arguments with customers. We never gave anything to them; based on their behavior, I think we were all pretty sure they just would have demanded more and come to expect freebies on a regular basis.

    I don’t wish to put all the homeless in a bad light, but those experiences made me wary. I’ll give money and food to a homeless person I see, and I’ll volunteer for and donate to homeless causes. But I would be very hesitant to make any overtures of friendliness to a homeless person I saw on a regular basis until I had a sense of that person’s behavior and demeanor in general. My past experiences have made me wary.

    1. LBK*

      I worked at Starbucks in Boston for a while and we had a slew of homeless regulars too. For the most part, they were fine because we just treated them like any other customer – which meant if they were having a good day and just coming in to buy a coffee, we took their money and gave them coffee. If they were having a bad day and came in acting like a jerk, we cut them off and asked them to leave. I’m not saying there weren’t times when some of them exhibited bad behavior or that we were BFFs, because I never really developed friendly relationships with any of them except one. But that’s true of pretty much all of our regulars, including the fact that some of our non-homeless regulars were also assholes that I hated dealing with or had to kick out of the store on occasion.

      tl;dr – Homeless people are just people, which means some are nice and some are jerks and some are a mix and working a service industry job means you’ll encounter all variants.

    2. Helka*

      Not in food service, but I was an outdoor security guard in the middle of the city; I certainly interacted with my fair share of homeless folks — that’s where my experience enters in. The people who made my job difficult and thankless and the people who hung out because the plaza was pleasant, they were homeless and had nowhere else to be — those two categories had zero overlap. The worst I got was one guy I had to run off because he kept setting up as a street preacher and the folks I worked for didn’t want the disturbance, or to have the things he was preaching associated with us. And he was even pretty even-tempered when I’d ask him to pipe down or move along.

    3. Joey*

      Yeah, it’s one thing to be sympathetic in theory, but living it comes with some real issues.

      And I know they don’t compare to the issues the homeless person is facing, but I don’t have the resources to deal with that issue at work.

      1. Garland*

        And it’s not your job or responsibility to deal with it-nor is it OP’s. I’m annoyed that people respond to OP’s valid complaints with suggestions like “talk to them, give them coffee, volunteer at a homeless shelter.” How is any of that supposed to help OP when she has to wake up someone blocking the office door in the morning? She should talk to management, and they should call the police / take any other necessary measures.

        1. Melissa*

          People were suggesting those kinds of moves in an effort to make the LW more comfortable with the homeless people outside of her office. Number one, it seemed like she might have some unexamined stereotypical fears of homeless people in general that might be dissipated if she talked to them or volunteered at a shelter. Number two, it sounds like it might be the same group of homeless people nearby her job every day – if she did recognize them and they recognized her, there’s a possibility that she would feel more comfortable and they might even look out for her. Several posters shared their experiences with this up thread and gave very clear reasonings why they did.

    4. Iro*

      This reminds me of the episode of hill street blues when Henry Goldblum is accosted by a group of young black men after his tire bursts in “their neighborhood.”

      It didn’t matter how much he had served those in need in that community. It didn’t matter that it was literally his job to help those in need. They still stole his stuff, threatened him with violence, and probably would have done more if he hadn’t of pulled that gun.

      1. Iro*

        This was suppose to next under Joey’s comment.

        “… but living it comes with some real issues.”

        The point is that putting yourself out there to help a social cause can indeed put you in danger, as many have given real life examples of. So all these suggestions of “bring a coffee” etc. are not taking into account that strangers can be dangerous no matter what your intentions.

        1. LBK*

          How does a fictional example make that point, though? By that token I can point out that Bubbles from The Wire is a homeless heroin addict that also serves as a critical criminal informant on multiple cases and is generally a kind-hearted, compassionate man who struggles to cope with the ways his society and his mind have failed him. As such, you can safely assume that all homeless people are like this and you have no reason to be afraid of them.

      2. Tinker*

        Hill Street Blues is a work of fiction, and Henry Goldblume is a fictional character portrayed by an actor called Joe Spano.

        He did not serve “those in need in that community” because neither he nor that community exists. It was not his job to help those in need because he does not exist. They did not steal his stuff because they do not exist, and neither his stuff nor him existed. He did not pull a gun because there was no gun and nobody to pull it. They would not have “done more” if he had not pulled the gun, because that was not the way the script was written; if Spano had failed to pull his prop weapon whilst shooting the scene, it most likely would have been reshot.

        Works of fiction can be illuminating, but generally not by way of treating them like real events.

        1. Iro*


          Works of fiction can be illuminating and often contain social commentary derived from real life experiences. And as I said above,

          The point is that putting yourself out there to help a social cause can indeed put you in danger, as many have given real life examples of.”

          1. aebhel*

            Okay, so give a real life example.

            Works of fiction are useful for illuminating a topic, yes, but a fictional event cannot and should not be used as proof of how reality works. I could just as easily say that the writers of that episode were indicating a prejudice against young black men from a particular neighborhood by writing their characters that way. Maybe I’m right, maybe you are, but there’s no way of knowing without context, because the event in question didn’t really happen.

            1. Iro*

              Read throught the comments!

              Rushed at night when she declined to give money walking alone to her car.
              The pizza thrower who screamed bitch
              Clinging to the car and refusing to let go with a child in the car until they father paid money

              To add my “own example” I was walking down the street with a small group of friends. When Sai reached into his pocket to give a panhandler all of his change he accidently spilled some of it on the sidewalk instead of into his cup. The homeless man then flipped out, screamed at Sai and our entire group and started following us and threatening to “teach us a lesson” although we simply walked away. Finally I turned around, made eye-contact and smiled and the homeless man turned around and left muttering about us under his breath.

              I posted a fictional example because I thought it more elegantly summarized the bigger issue, which is while it may feel great to reach out to communities in need it can indeed result in real harm or danger to your person.

              1. aebhel*

                I’m not denying that the real life examples exist, I’m objecting to the use of a fictional example to prove a point, because it’s rhetorically convenient.

                1. Iro*

                  Ok I can see that now.

                  Because you nested yours under Tinker’s who felt the need to explain to me, as if I didn’t know, that this was fiction, I mistook your comment.

                  I thought you were trying to say that because I provided a fictional example that I thought elegantly summarized some of the other comments in this thread, as well as my own experiences, that my agreeing with Joey that “Yeah, it’s one thing to be sympathetic in theory, but living it comes with some real issues” was baseless as it had no real examples.

    5. AnonAnalyst*

      I’ve been trying to decide whether to post a comment here because, while I really like the suggestions and compassion in this thread, I actually really feel for the OP here and have a feeling my perspective is not going to be popular.

      I used to work in downtown San Francisco, in one of the sketchy but not overly dangerous areas (theft and robberies were common, but violent crime was not). It was not infrequent for me to arrive at work to find a homeless person sleeping in the doorway of my workplace. This was a small building with a small doorway, so whoever arrived first had to wake them up and ask them to leave as it would otherwise be impossible to enter the building. I’m not clear if this is the OP’s situation, or if she’s just encountering people hanging around the building but not impeding her entry.

      Most of the people who I met were perfectly nice and I befriended a few who I would catch up with whenever they happened to be there or when they passed by on the street, but some really were aggressive and as a 20-something small woman I really was afraid of some of those individuals. I also ran into enough that were aggressive that I eventually felt some trepidation when I approached new people who had stayed in the doorway overnight. It didn’t help that, after I had worked there for awhile, there were a couple of incidents in the neighborhood where some homeless people had actually attacked other people passing through the area.

      To Joey’s point above, this also was business issue as it often delayed the start of business since we had to wait for people to pack up and then sometimes had to do additional cleaning of the doorway. For awhile, when we had kind of a regular group of homeless people that would sleep in our doorway, we tried to ask them if they could make sure to clear everything out and be out by the time we needed to get in to the building. This sort of worked for a time, but then new people started showing up, and the newcomers were the people that were more aggressive and more argumentative and were usually less willing to comply.

      Eventually, we ended up procuring a notice from the police department that the homeless were not supposed to sleep in our doorway. At the time (this was awhile back, so I’m not sure if it still works this way), if that notice were posted prominently on the front of the building, the police would ask homeless people to move if they found any sleeping there during regular patrols of the area. This actually seemed to help, although it didn’t completely eliminate the issue (and obviously it made it so that people had to find somewhere else to go, which as others have noted is also problematic).

      So I guess all of this is to say, I hope that the suggestions here are helpful for the OP. I’m sure my experience is coloring my view, but I actually really feel for the OP if her situation is anything like mine, as it’s not an easy one to solve.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I agree. I think there are many helpful, compassionate suggestions here. I will say that I’m extremely sympathetic to the OP because fear of the unknown and fear of potential violence are very real things. Broadcasting attracts all kinds of mentally ill people. Mentally ill people who feel intimate with our on-air talent. And sometimes they do violence or threaten to do violence. Just google “Jodi Huisentruit” – nice young woman, nice small town. She’s been missing since she was abducted outside her home on her way to work one morning in 1997. They think she was abducted and murdered by a transient farm laborer, but they don’t know for sure.

        I don’t know if the guy who was throwing rocks at the building at 11 o’clock at night is homeless or not, I just know he’s throwing rocks at the building. So, I call the our security company & the cops. I don’t know if the woman wandering through the parking lot is harmless or casing the cars to steal from them. Both have happened. I err on the side of caution and call the our security company.

        I do know the drunk guy who sought shelter in our heated vestibule is likely harmless and definitely homeless, but he’s blocking access into & out of the building and while I don’t wish him ill and feel bad that it’s below zero, he can’t stay in the vestibule. Our company’s policy is to never, ever engage on the property because you don’t know 100% for sure. So I call our security company, they ascertain he’s drunk, so he can’t go to the shelter and they have to run him off.

      2. Elsajeni*

        Yeah, I think some comments are erring on the side of assuming the folks camping in front of the office are staying out of the way, or that they’re awake and will happily move when the OP says “Excuse me”. Of course people sometimes sleep in narrow doorways in such a way that they block the door — you get better protection from the wind by having walls on three sides, and unless there’s a wide awning, that might be the only part of the sidewalk that’s really protected from rain, too. And there’s a major difference between saying “Excuse me” to a person who’s awake enough to voluntarily move out of your way and waking up someone who’s sleeping in the place you need to be — of course kneeling down and shaking a total stranger awake is uncomfortable, and regardless of whether homeless people are more likely to be unpredictable and dangerous than the general population, anyone being woken up suddenly is at least a little bit unpredictable.

        The OP describes herself as terrified; unless there’s some history of threatening behavior from these folks that she didn’t share in her letter, that’s disproportionate, and one of the things she can do about this situation is to try to reduce her own fear reaction to a more rational level. But she is in a legitimately uncomfortable situation, and I think it’s also a good idea for her to look at what could be done to change the situation, not just her response to it. (And Alison and commenters have given some great suggestions about that, too — contacting shelters and services in the area, making the entryway better-lit or otherwise less appealing as a place to sleep, etc. I’m just reacting to several comments that strike me as going a bit too far toward assuming that there’s no actual problem here.)

    6. LMW*

      I’m actually pretty sympathetic to the OP here, and I’ve been in a similar situation.
      Firstly, any time there’s a strange group of people hanging out in the dark in a place where I need to unlock a door and access a building (a building where they don’t actually have any business), that’s going to make me really nervous too. It falls in the same category as using good judgement when deciding to walk down that dark alley or parking in a well-lit area when you’re out late.
      When I was younger, I shared an apartment in a large building in a part of town where there’s a larger percentage of visible homelessness. We’d frequently have homeless people in the vestibule between the outer door and inner locked door, particularly in the cold winter. When the first guy came, it wasn’t a big deal — he was nice, he’d actually say things like “How’re you today? Cold out there, isn’t it?” and made a real effort to not be threatening. He’d leave right away when asked. Help people move things in and out, hold doors, etc. We called him the unofficial doorman. But he was never there when it was dark or very late or very early, so it wasn’t really intimidating. But after a while, we started having other visitors — one regular was a very intimidating mutterer (very big, stared, muttered, etc.). And then there were people who wouldn’t leave when asked, people who panhandled, people who swore at you, and, a few times, people who tried to follow tenants into the building — I think so they could use the downstairs laundry room bathroom (visible from the vestibule), but who knows?. I really hated coming home late and never knowing if there was going to be a stranger in the vestibule while I was alone and trying to unlock the door to get into my building. It could be scary at times, and it’s part of the reason I moved out of the building.

    7. A Bug!*

      I worked in a coffee and doughnut shop that opened early and closed late, in an neighborhood with a “homeless problem.” Morning shifts were never an issue for me, as generally the homeless in the area were sleeping at that time.

      Closing shifts were slightly different. Company policy required that any baked goods that hadn’t sold by closing time were supposed to be discarded. This was ostensibly because giving away the leftovers would encourage homeless people to come by at ten-thirty for handouts and that this would create a safety issue for the closing employee. I never understood the reasoning. A person who’s likely to rob the place isn’t going to choose this shop to rob just because we’re known to hand out a stale muffin or bun at closing time.

      So yeah, I disregarded that policy. Pretty much anyone who came in after ten-thirty got bonus goods if I had too much stuff in the display. I had no way of knowing which customers were homeless or otherwise in a tight situation, but there were some indicators. But I didn’t have to make any assumptions to say “I’m closing up soon and these’ll just be going in the trash anyway.”

      And there was no increase in loiterers or people coming in to ask for free stuff. There were a few folks who became semi-regulars, but again, never asking. Just coming in with their $0.85 for a doughnut at 10:45.

      During my time at that shop I had far more problems and far more tense situations with well-groomed people in sophisticated clothing than I ever did with people whose appearance would read as homeless. In fact, there was only [i]one[/i] customer who was likely to be homeless that ever gave us a problem, and everyone learned what he looked like and knew to call the cops when he came in the door. But that wasn’t a function of his homelessness; it was a function of our experience with him as a problem customer. I wouldn’t have let my experience with him color my interactions with other people who superficially resembled him any more than I’d have treated all men in business suits as assholes just because a handful of men in business suits were assholes to me.

      All that said, I feel sympathy for the OP. There’s a lot of societal messaging that tells us that homeless people are dangerous, desperate, [i]different[/i]. And I have no doubt that OP feels terrified. But it’s super important to understand that [i]listening[/i] to your gut doesn’t always mean [i]obeying[/i] your gut. If I had always followed my gut feelings instead of assessing them, I’d be a hermit. Lots of completely normal social situations scare the hell out of me. But I’ve learned that I need to consider whether or not those feelings are a rational result of relevant factors, or influenced by my own personal baggage.

      By the way, I find [i]Dune[/i]’s Litany Against Fear to be personally helpful in this kind of situation. It helps me get a grip on my fear so that I’m able to more effectively assess it. Nerdy? Sure is! But as Bruce Lee once said, “take only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

      1. A Bug!*

        Looks like I forgot that this blog uses HTML coding for formatting and not the usual message-board square brackets. Whoops.

    8. Tara*

      My dad was homeless for a long time (before I was born). My own experiences with homeless people have mostly been benign. When I was twelve, a man flashed me outside a Vancouver mall– he looked as though he might be homeless, but he could just as easily have been a pervert with a home. I think people conflate ‘showing visible mental illness’ (and I’ve heard my mom crying after finding out another one of her former students, mostly autistic or with fetal alcohol syndrome, are now on the streets) with ‘deranged and violent’ when that’s not necessarily the case. Me and my mom were walking to the mall when I heard yelling. I turned around and one of my mom’s students was yelling my mom’s name, flapping his arms around and screaming. He was simply happy to see her– he’s never been violent in his life.

      And I can see how that would be frightening, how people would assume danger. But it does make me sad. I don’t think this is an issue with a “right” answer. Obviously, you have to talk precautions for your own safety. But take precautions in the same way that you would if there were non-homeless men who made you a bit uneasy in a public area. Not in a “ew gross homeless scary” kinda way.

  49. Chriama*

    I don’t think it’s fair to advise the OP to be ‘compassionate’ when she has concerns about her personal safety. The fact that not all homeless people are dangerous doesn’t mean none of them are, and it only takes 1 person in a fit of erratic behaviour to do her serious, possibly lasting, damage. I do agree with the following suggestions:
    1) reach out to local homeless organizations in the nearby community (or the police outreach team if they have one) and ask for their help and/or advice
    2) talk to management about making the entrance to your office and the path to the parking lot as well as the lot itself are all well lit
    3) do something to increase your ability to defend yourself. Pepper spray is a good option, although I hear it’s illegal in some places so check that out first. I also recommend asking your company to pay for a self-defense class (not because of the inherent risk of being around homeless people, but because they’re having a lone person open and close the office at times of day when fewer passersby are around).

    I think that in the desire to make sure an already stigmatized group isn’t further marginalized, people are failing to sympathise with the fact that fear of the “unknown” factor of having strangers in uncomfortable proximity to you at times when you feel vulnerable (alone, in the dark) is a valid safety concern. Being homeless may not make them more likely to be dangerous, but when it only takes 1 incident to cause significant harm the OP most definitely should put “personal safety” above “compassion”.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      OK, here’s what’s bugging me about these kinds of comments:

      OP’s safety concerns are her issue. It’s not up to the homeless people outside her place of business to ameliorate those fears, as long as they’re legally allowed to be there. They’re not doing anything wrong. It’s on her to feel safer – so I totally agree that she should take reasonable steps for personal security – pepper spray, a self defense class, etc, like any woman walking around in the dark in a city should do. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. Nobody’s saying she should be friendly at the expense of her personal safety – I feel like you’re arguing with something that’s not there.

      1. Iro*

        “OPs saftey concerns are her issue?”

        Really? I mean you could make the same argument for a stalker! Well John Doe is legally allowed to be at this public campus so, while I’m sorry you feel uncomfortable with the fact that he follows you to all of your college classes and trys sit with you everyday at the public cafeteria there’s really nothing we can do because he has a legal right to be there. Have you thought about why you fear John? Have you tried giving him a coffee?

        She also clearly states “Do you have any suggestions on how I can ask my employer to handle homeless people who are constantly blocking access to my workplace entrance?” Blocking someone’s path is a threatening gesture and she also makes it sound like she hasn’t been able to properly lock up because she is blocked by people she has had to ask the police to come and move.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Well, stalking is illegal, and there are restraining orders, so I think that metaphor falls pretty flat.

          1. Iro*

            It’s exceedingly difficult to get any sort of restraining order on anyone who has not explicitly threatened you and to get the “legal stalker” stamp applied.

            Heck I was a security guard at said campus and my chief couldn’t do squat about this guy despite the fact that he had a personal connection to me and wanted to make the dude leave me a long. Imagine if I was just some jane doe off the street, he probably would not have extended half of the resources he did and and yet I still wasn’t able to ditch this guy because he “had a legal right” to be on campus.

            The stalking didn’t end until he transfered to another school.

          2. Chriama*

            So here’s where we differ: To a certain extent, I feel some of the comments make the OP into a little bit of a scapegoat for all of society’s perception and treatment of homeless people (obviously not all of them, and the merit of those suggestions doesn’t take away from the effect they have). I imagine her coming back and reading these comments and being made to feel like a “bad person” because she’s uncomfortable with homeless people. The confounding variable of their homelessness has caused many people to respond to the question “what do I do about homeless people” instead of “how do I stay safe when strangers are constantly hanging around my office at times when I’m alone and potentially vulnerable”. While I agree the first question has merit and should be discussed, it’s not the question the OP asked and suggestions for things like volunteering at a homeless shelter or buying them cofee and donuts are placing a moral burden on her that I believe is unfair.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              “While I agree the first question has merit and should be discussed, it’s not the question the OP asked and suggestions for things like volunteering at a homeless shelter or buying them cofee and donuts are placing a moral burden on her that I believe is unfair.”

              I can understand that perspective. I may not agree with it, but it makes sense. :)

              1. Chriama*

                For what it’s worth, I agree that it would be *nice* for the OP to examine her feelings towards these people separately from the personal safety issue, but it’s not *necessary* and it’s not a solution to her true problem.

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  Damn it, don’t you hate it when you end up agreeing with someone you thought you were arguing with? :)

              1. Chriama*

                Maybe that wasn’t the correct phrase. Something like “red herring”? The point is, if it was a group of teenagers hanging out in a parking lot, the OP could be in the same situation. The homelessness doesn’t suddenly make her safety concerns less valid.

                1. fposte*

                  Her safety concerns are never invalid, but that doesn’t mean they’re justified, either.

                  And I’m sticking to my conviction that it makes a big difference whether we’re talking people who have homes to go to or people who don’t, because it makes a huge difference in the amount of agency behind people’s ending up in front of your workplace.

                2. Chriama*

                  I don’t understand the distinction you’re making between valid and justified. I concede that their homelessness is a point in favour of the fact that they’re just looking for a place to stay rather than actively looking to make mischeif, but I don’t think it has any bearing on the safety concern. There is still the potential for harm.

        2. Cat*

          The difference is a stalker has already done something to demonstrate he’s dangerous (i.e., he has stalked someone). A homeless person is being categorized as potentially danger based on nothing more than their status as homeless.

            1. fposte*

              How does that make them a threat? Are you reading that as deliberately interposing themselves between the OP and the entrance? I’m reading it as them being at the entrance when she gets there. That doesn’t make them a threat, just an obstacle.

              1. Joey*

                Cmon fposte. Most people would be terrified to tell a homeless person to move from an employee entrance. Not to mention that it’s probably dark outside and she’s alone. To feel threatened merely by having to confront an unknown person in a dark and lonely place who is in such a bad personal place isn’t unreasonable. Obviously the person might not be an actual threat, but many people don’t want to chance it.

                1. Cat*

                  I don’t think most people would because normally all you’re saying is “excuse me.” I think you’re underestimating the extent to which many of us have been in similar situations.

                2. aebhel*

                  …I do this pretty regularly? And it’s not a big deal? I’ve been cursed at a couple of times, but nothing worse than that.

                3. KerryOwl*

                  I take issue with “most” and “terrified.” Would many people be concerned? On their guard? Sure. But “terrified” is a bridge too far.

                4. eee*

                  right, but just because you’re scared it doesn’t mean that you should be. I have anxiety and I’m terrified of a lot of things that are either no real threat, or are a possible threat but are statistically improbable. An example: I am terrified that a plane is going to crash into my home (as did happen in Gaithersburg Maryland a few months ago). Although this is a very scary prospect, and certainly can happen, it’s statistically unlikely that it will happen to me. Recently, large trucks have been driving by my home, making a noise similar to a plane descending rapidly. This noise really scares me. Is it a reasonable thing to be scared of? Yes, I think most people would agree that a plane crashing into your home would be bad and terrifying. Is it reasonable for me to feel terror every time I hear a noise that reminds me of that? Maybe, but it’s a disproportionate response to a noise that I hear a lot. Is it reasonable for me to try and banish the trucks driving by my house because the noise they make reminds me of a plane? No. Just because something inspires fear in you doesn’t mean it should, and just because something makes you feel scared doesn’t mean it’s a threat.

                5. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

                  Cat, I think you (and others) are perhaps oversimplifying with the whole “just say excuse me” thing. Sure, if the homeless person is awake and of relatively sound mind and relatively sober, that’s all you need to do. But what about the person sleeping? What about the person who’s set up a makeshift lean-to and is tucked away inside of it, so you can’t even tell who/how many people you’re potentially dealing with? Or the person who’s awake but behaving erratically, for whatever reason? All of these scenarios strike me as potentially more complicated than a simple “excuse me” can handle.

                  I mean, just on the sleeping thing, people – not just people experiencing homelessness, all people – wake up in all kinds of conditions. I’ve actually pushed my spouse when he’s woken me up too suddenly – it’s a reflexive reaction because I’m, for whatever reason, especially sensitive to being woken up unexpectedly. And I’m being woken up in my own home, in my own bed, by the person I know best in the world. I can’t imagine how I’d react if I was sleeping on the street and being woken by a stranger – my guess is, not well.

                  “Terrified” may have been too strong of a word choice on OP’s part, and she may very well need to examine her feelings/prejudices about people who are experiencing homelessness, but if she’s literally having to wake up strangers to enter her place of business (which is what I understood her to be describing, although I could be reading it wrong), I really don’t blame her for having safety concerns and I think “just say excuse me” is unfairly minimizing OP’s question/experience.

      2. Chriama*

        I agree that the homeless people aren’t doing anything wrong by just being there (at least, the original email hasn’t given any information to suggest that). However, while I haven’t seen comments that explicitly say she should be friendly at the expense of her personal safety, I have seen a lot of comments stating she should get to know them, buy them coffee, etc. Some people have anecdotes of homeless people doing nice things for them like stopping muggers. On the the flip side, there are just as many anecdotes about homeless people doing inappropriate things or being violent or agressive. I don’t think anyone’s been outright rude to the OP, but its irresponsible to tell her to get to know them because they *could* be nice, normal people in a bad situation. The homelessness is a confounding factor to the situation she’s in, namely that there are strangers hanging around her building at times when she’s vulnerable. We don’t know who these people are any more than the OP does, and that’s why I think the comments that emphasize things like ‘treating them with dignity’ are a little disingenious. Yes, don’t be rude to perfect strangers. But there’s no guarantee that any overtures of friendliness would make her safer, and I feel like people are missing the point that these *are* strangers.

        1. Iro*

          ^ This. I find the “buy them a coffee” and “sit down and have a chat” comments to be particularly flippant when the OP has stated she feels unsafe.

          By all means the other suggestionsa are great! See what resources are available for homless, let them know there is a (sizable?) population near your workplace that may need there help. But start giving them gifts? I wouldn’t go that far if I felt unsafe.

        2. Natalie*

          “Some people have anecdotes of homeless people doing nice things for them like stopping muggers. On the the flip side, there are just as many anecdotes about homeless people doing inappropriate things or being violent or agressive.”

          How is this not true of literally all other groups of people, though? The only thing that is causing the OP distress is apparently the fact that they are homeless and in her proximity.

          1. Chriama*

            But the fact that this is true of all sorts of people means that comments suggesting they’d all be nice if she just got to know them are dismissing her valid concerns about safety in favour of some sort of social justice crusading.

            1. Natalie*

              I’m really not seeing anyone be dismissive. A number of people who have suggested that the OP may re-evaluate her terror of these people have also shared that they felt similarly when they first moved to the city or first got a job in the CBD. I guess if that’s social justice crusading, you better sign me up for a tumblr.

      3. Shell*

        There have been stories shared and outright suggestions to the OP to to give coffee/food, and outright telling her to have more compassion for the homeless as if she isn’t considerate of that at all. The OP is afraid for her personal safety, so yes, I feel like some of the comments here are leaning in the direction stated.

        Is the actual risk of violence small? Statistically, yes. But because this the OP’s place of work, the OP cannot avoid these people if they hang around unless she wants to change jobs. I understand that because these are homeless people, the homeless don’t have a real place to go either (and thus this puts them in a different category than people just loitering around, which reasonably raises suspicions about their intent). But their presence scares the OP, and according to the OP’s post, these people are impeding her ability to do her job.

        OP absolutely can and should do things to address her safety concerns. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to try to find methods of discouraging these people hanging around. Statistically the risk of violence is very low, but since she can’t avoid this location, I don’t think it’s out of line to try to find ways of lowering that risk even further by discouraging people hanging around there in the first place. The risk is low, but the consequences for being wrong are high.

        There are lots of things that are legal but still bother people.

        1. KerryOwl*

          But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to try to find methods of discouraging these people hanging around.

          I don’t think that anyone has actually suggested that she buy these folks a cup of coffee INSTEAD of the other suggestions; just in addition to.

    2. Kat M*

      I also wonder if some bias is coming in because these folks are homeless. Why feel less safe around them? Homelessness doesn’t mean, “commit a horrific crime.” Plenty of violent criminals were not homeless before they committed their crimes.

      Honestly, some of these comments remind me of my well-intentioned-but-still-racist white relatives who warn me about walking to the train station when I go up to visit (where there are Latino day laborers) or going to non-Western countries for vacation because of “safety”, especially as I’m a white female. I’m not trying to interpret prejudice where there isn’t any…….but hearing similar comments in those circumstances really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      1. soitgoes*

        I think the constant references to addicts/mentally ill/violent people who have places to live are misplaced. We are talking about people who sleep outdoors, in front of a place where they know they will see a woman walking alone, who they probably know is uncomfortable with them there. Comparing those people to anyone who has a bed to sleep in is derailing the conversation, IMO.

        1. Kat M*

          Yeah, but it’s not probably really their choice to sleep outdoors and the fact that a woman walks by is likely irrelevant to them. They’d probably do the same if it were a man walking by every day.

        2. Melissa*

          People who sleep outdoors…because they have no other choices. Framing it this way makes it sound like they are sleeping there to deliberately intimidate her, which I don’t believe is the case. They’re not deliberately sleeping their to make her uncomfortable; frankly, for them, her discomfort is probably taking a backseat to their need to stay relatively warm and dry and safe while they sleep. At night. Outside.

          Comparing them to people with a bed to sleep is not derailing in this sense. The point is that homeless people are no more likely to be violent than people with homes, so there’s no reason to fear them simply because they are homeless. The fear come from them being strange people loitering around her building, to which OP should take proper precautions and do some of the things suggested (talk to management about making sure entry ways are well-lit, asking for off-site or different arrangements, perhaps calling the police if they are aggressive or refuse to move).

  50. Karen*

    I wish she had left the word “homeless” out because, imo, it’s derailed the conversation a bit to one about societal causes and issues and how we view and treat homeless people. She is alone in the early morning and late evening hours and people are sometimes loitering around and she feels unsafe. It’s not crazy to be unsettled, especially if it’s a high crime area or if the business is known to have cash on hand.

    My advice would be to contact the home office or talk to your manager and discuss your concerns about safety to see what, if anything they can do. Perhaps they can shift schedules a bit to make sure people aren’t entering/leaving alone. I know some places where co-workers purposely lock up and leave together for reasons of safety. Perhaps lighting and visibility can be increased.

    I don’t disagree with getting to know the homeless and treating them with respect, but I think it is also worth engaging the employer in a conversation about feeling unsafe when one is arriving and leaving work alone in the dark.

    1. De Minimis*

      It could also be something that might be addressed by the management of the building where the workplace is located, it just depends on the property situation.

    2. Chriama*

      I agree that the “homelessness” is really distracting the conversation. Someone posted above that she used to work retail and would deal with groups of people loitering in the parking lot when she was a lone woman carrying a large sum of cash. If the OP had written in with that scenario, I don’t think nearly as many people would have advised trying to get to know them. There are a lot of societal issues around homelessness, and I do think some of the OP’s language makes it seem like she’s uncomfortable with these people simply because they are homeless (e.g. it affects her productivity to have them sleeping outside). However, even though it may be a kind thing to do and improve her peace of mind, I don’t think the onus should be put on the OP to become more comfortable with homeless people. Her mindset represents a social mindset that people are reacting to, but statistics don’t matter when you’re dealing with a sample size of 1.

      1. Iro*

        I interepreted her lost productivity as the time she had to spend waiting on the police so she should open or unlock the building.

        A big problem is that the OP doesn’t seem to have great grammer and that has allowed her letter to be interpretted about a bazillion ways that everyone is arguing their version of. : )

    3. neverjaunty*

      It’s not at all crazy to be unsettled. But OP did not describe herself as unsettled; she says she is terrified, although it does not appear from her letter that there has been any threatening or unsettling behavior.

      As someone else pointed out, homelessness is actually very relevant – not because we feel sorry for them, but because it gives context for their presence. If you work at a Starbucks, and every morning when you open up there are several people with expensive suits and reading their iPhones “loitering” around the entrance, are you likely to feel threatened? No, because the context for their presence is ‘commuters waiting for their coffee’.

  51. TOC*

    I just thought of another simple safety option for OP. OP, if you drive and park near the building, do you have a key remote with an alarm/panic button? Keeping your finger on that button as you come and go is another way to help you feel a little safer if there are usually enough people nearby that setting off your alarm would scare away an attacker. It’s a good common-sense step for anyone who comes and goes to their car alone in the dark.

  52. Hannah*

    I dont think the OP is being unreasonable to not want to deal with waking someone and asking them to move so that she can enter the office, as it is not part of her job. For me, I don’t think the mere presence of a homeless person merits calling the police, I’m surprised they even respond, so I would stop putting that on myself. But I think it’s reasonable to want to bring this complaint to the home office, which was her original question. I would get in touch with whoever deals with the owner or property managent company (office manager? HR?) and ask if they could get a security person/doorman. Maybe the answer will be no, but I think it’s worth asking

    I personally get a bit annoyed when our receptionist is late because if a delivery man is waiting or something, I can’t help and have to ask him to keep waiting outside. Nothing to do with safety but I just want to be able to walk into the office and get to work without being bothered, so I just don’t think the OP is out of line on that. I also think the home company might want to know about this issue if clients visit the office- if the OP is uncomfortable clients could be too, so they might care how that reflects on the company.

  53. Karyn*

    OP, most of this has been echoed above, but just to add another story to the mix that might give you another perspective:

    There’s a particular homeless man who hangs out around the building near where I work. I used to see him frequently when I took the train from my house to the city, and then had to walk nine blocks to my office. One summer afternoon, it was super hot out – I mean upper 90s hot and humid. I saw him sitting in the shade, obviously dehydrated, and as usual, he asked if I could spare some change. Usually I walked right by him (something I admit I’m ashamed of), but that day I just had to stop. I told him I didn’t have any change (which was the truth) but would he like some food? He thought for a second and then asked if I could buy him some ice cream. It just so happened that we were right by a cupcake/ice cream parlor so I asked him what flavor. He thought for another minute and said strawberry. So I went in and brought him back a double scoop of strawberry in a waffle cone with sprinkles. He was SO happy, like a kid in a candy store. He thanked me about five times over and told me his name was Tommy. He was, as so many sadly are, a Vietnam war veteran who was forgotten after his service. Every day I would say hello to him and I would occasionally buy him an ice cream.

    A couple months later, I was working late one night and on my way home. I was passing by where Tommy usually camped out, and he saw me walking and asked what I was doing out so late. He said he was worried when I didn’t come by at my usual time. Then he insisted on walking me to the train station because he didn’t want any shady characters messing with his friend.

    I realize that there are always the occasional unstable, mentally ill homeless persons in our communities, but there are also unstable, mentally ill people in daily life. But try talking to them occasionally, see if the ones you interact with outside your office aren’t like my friend Tommy (who, by the way, ended up in a community service type job with a local service organization and last I heard was doing quite well – I still occasionally see him doing cleanup around town, things like that).

  54. annie*

    Two things: it is okay to say “hey, guys, sorry but you can’t hang out here” if indeed that’s true. “The boss is a stickler for these things, I’ll get in trouble” are also phrases I’ve used. They know it, you know it, just saying it respectfully often helps.
    Second, many police depts have community resourse officers who help get services to people in this situation, and that’s who you should call and talk to. They can get rides to a shelter, well being checks, etc. I think its important to recognize the OP is not a socialservices professional, and I don’t think it is her job to determine the level of risk from these folks if we are taking her at her word that something is making her feel unsafe. Working with a community resourse officer, they can do that for you and you hopefully help get people to services they need long term. A cup of coffee is nice, but a social worker with a plan is more useful long term.

  55. Scott*

    A good friend of mine worked for a City Planning and Design group but quit her job after five years because she grew tired of having to design parks to prevent crime and homeless from taking them over (i.e. the small stools someone described earlier, benches that move so you can’t lay on them, minimal bushes and other shrubbery, etc.)

    I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but the more we normalize homelessness the more homelessness we’ll have to deal with.

    I pay a lot of money to live in a nice neighborhood, and work long days. Frankly, I’d like to be able to walk home from work and enjoy the nice weather, the ambiance, etc. without being panhandled for money three times on every block. I wear headphones and pretend to be listening to music just so I can ignore the endless panhandling.

    Also, business owners generally don’t want the homeless around, either. If I’m going to go into a store, I will think twice if going in means having to step over someone in the doorway .

    I also don’t believe that the homeless aren’t dangerous–just read the news (which substitutes the term “transient” for “homeless”).

    As for the OP, I think your employer should not only put bright lights, but have an urban planner design the space so that the homeless can’t congregate their in the first place. This can easily be done with planters that have a spiky design preventing people from sitting on them and not giving them enough space to sleep in between them.

    1. Natalie*

      “I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but the more we normalize homelessness the more homelessness we’ll have to deal with.”

      Homelessness isn’t like skinny jeans. It’s not something people do because it’s popular.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      “I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but the more we normalize homelessness the more homelessness we’ll have to deal with. ”

      At the risk of really derailing this discussion – you can’t really believe that. It’s not like someone is thinking “boy, I COULD sleep in a nice warm bed tonight, or I could sleep on the street. Since everyone seems to be cool with me sleeping on the street, I think I’ll choose that!” It’s the same kind of argument people make about feeding the homeless (I participate in one of those programs – making bagged meals. If my PB&J sandwiches are making street living THAT palatable those much be some magical sandwiches.

      1. Joey*

        There is some merit to that argument though. If the homeless are getting food and shelter and a few dollars on the street why go to a shelter that will require them to live by their rules?

        1. fposte*

          Because the homeless aren’t a monolith, and the ones who’d rather sleep on the street exist but are pretty uncommon. As seen by the success in the places where the approach to homelessness is to provide them with housing.

        2. Helka*

          I’m not sure what kind of protection from the elements you’re imagining people on the street get. A doorway ain’t that great.

        3. eee*

          Also, homeless shelters often only let you sleep there, and fill up fast. So you might not be able to sleep there very night, and during the day you’re on your own. People can’t just stop existing during the day because you feel that their existence is an inconvenience.

      2. Scott*

        I’m in my mid-40s and remember going to New York City in the late 70s as a kid. It was HORRIBLE. Grand Central Station was filled with homeless people, as were the bus stations, subways, etc. There was urine and feces everywhere. Finally, people got tired of it and look at New York today. You can walk through most of Manhattan and only see 1-2 homeless people where before you would see hundreds. The city is cleaner, safer than it’s ever been, AND financially stable.

        My point is that if people tolerate bad behavior, it will continue. If they don’t, it will stop.

        1. Sam*

          It doesn’t mean the homeless problem had gone away…it means people are chosing to ignore it. Please understand the difference.

          1. sam*

            also, of course, a significant string of court cases that forced the city government to actually spend money to deal with the homeless problem rather than ignore it. It’s not like the population just said “hey, we’re tired of this” and poof! the homeless disappeared.

            (and wanna know a secret? there are still a sh*t ton of homeless people here. We just hide them from the tourists better now: http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1).

    3. ProductiveDyslexic*

      It is simply untrue to say that “the more we normalize homelessness the more homelessness we’ll have to deal with”: homelessness is directly correlated to the state of the economy! The U.S. is currently experiencing its highest level of homelessness (671,000 people in 2007, 610,042 in 2013, according to a federal report) since the Great Depression.

      With regard to anti-homeless spikes, I posted upthread about how this can actually massively backfire on companies.

    4. Chriama*

      I agree that making it uncomfortable for homeless people to loiter in public places decreases their presence in those places. But, where do they go instead? They obviously don’t just magically get jobs, and many of them are there because there’s no room in the shelters around them or they can’t get in (maybe they’re addicts, or have mental illnesses that make them unable to follow the shelter rules so they get kicked out). My theory is they end up in the less desireable public places (e.g. industrial neighbourhoods instead of residential parks).

    5. Observer*

      I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but the more we normalize homelessness the more homelessness we’ll have to deal with.

      It’s not a popular opinion because it has about as much relationship to reality as Cinderella, without the “happy ending”.

      The simple fact is that people don’t stay in housing because there is a stigma against being homeless. They stay in housing because they want to be warm, and have a place to leave their stuff (even if it’s just a spare pair of pants and a sweater), and to have a space that is safe and THEIRS to some extent. They don’t become homeless because it is “normalized” but because they can’t manage to find housing or to pay for it.

    6. Kelly*

      I think that the use of the word transient in addition to homeless is important. There’s quite a different between the two groups. There was an article earlier this month in the local paper about the public library and the role it plays in providing services for the homeless population. Both library employees and members of the homeless population were interviewed. To be honest, it seemed like some of the ones who fell into the homeless group would probably more accurately be described as transient because they thought that the shelters that had beds available had too strict rules, which include staying sober and not using drugs.

      My feelings are mixed about the library providing those services. It’s the closest public library location to where I work, so it is more convenient for me to both pick up and drop off books, but don’t want to have to deal with the panhandlers asking me for money both inside and outside the library. The library is paying for security to help provide a safe environment for patrons, which is a must with its downtown location. They are also partnering with some homeless advocacy groups to provide some day shelter services in the basement, including showers and access to microwaves and hot water for making food. As long as they have the staff and funding, that’s a good service to provide.

  56. Clever Name*

    Our office has 2 exterior stairways that are enclosed, and we’ve had homeless people sleeping there before. My company has handled it by installing infrared security cameras and calling police if people feel unsafe. I’m not saying I agree with how my company is handling it, but some people, like the letter-writer are concerned. Mostly I think it’s because the area is mostly enclosed and shielded from view of the street, so people have no idea if someone is sleeping there when they walk up the stairs, potentially startling the person sleeping. Frankly, I’d be cool if the folks hanging out up there showed up at times when it would be guaranteed that nobody would be coming to the office, but on at least on occasion, a person was still sleeping upstairs around 7 AM, and rightly or wrongly, it makes people feel unsafe to unknowingly come upon someone sleeping in an enclosed area.

    1. JMegan*

      Uncomfortable for the sleeper, too, I would imagine. Not in the sense of “I’m more uncomfortable than you are!” but just to note that the situation you describe must be fairly unpleasant for all involved.

  57. Meg Murry*

    I know OP said she has a lot of work to do and therefore has to work from 7-6, but I wonder if there is something the home office can do about that. Everywhere I have worked had a policy that there are always to be at least 2 employees in the building at any time in case of emergency, and honestly, it seems more likely that OP would have something happen to her when she is in the office alone (like fall down the stairs, etc) than have something happen to her by the homeless in front of her office.
    When does the person who leaves before the OP leave? Or the person who gets there after her? Could OP get a laptop from the home office and leave at 5 pm with that other last employee, then get some work done from home after her kids are in bed to make up for that hour of lost productivity? Same with the first hour. Or could she ask co-workers to change up their schedules so one person works from 7 to whenever and another works from whenever to 6 so she isn’t alone at the office (and therefore isn’t walking out of the office alone). Yes, its annoying to have to pack up at 5:30 when your coworker wants to leave and you’d like to fire off 3 more emails – but which is more annoying, losing that 30-60 minutes (and possibly having to do it from home later) or dealing with the homeless outside by yourself? And if this is a staffing issue, OP can at least try to get help from the home office on that to get coverage, yes? Or even discuss with the home office if they should continue to be in that location – my insurance agent recently moved out of the office park she had been in for 20+ years because they were the last tenants left in the building and they were losing clients who were unwilling to come to that office in the evenings to meet with her (she had late hours 2 days a week for people to come meet with her after work).

    My mother was the manager at a retail business where the last person out had to take a (locked) bank envelope of cash and checks to the bank night deposit box – and the employees had to park far from the store as a policy, so they were crossing a semi-dark parking lot alone, late at night. After one person was held up and the envelope taken from them, the local police started including the store on their rounds, so every evening just before closing time they would come to the parking lot and wait for the employees to walk to their cars (and the new policy also required the last 2 employees to walk out together) and then follow them to the bank. Now we live in a small town, so this isn’t possible everywhere, and the police did NOT come round on the store if they were in the middle of an actual incident elsewhere, but our local police chief decided it would be easier to deter a robbing/mugging of an easy target than to deal with it after the fact, for which I am grateful.

    1. Chriama*

      I like your suggestions. Depending on the work she does, she might not be able to work from home. But the workplace absolutely should have safety procedures in place for things such as an employee working alone. As part of my OH&S (operational health and safety) mandatory training for an office job, I had to memorize a bunch of stuff related to this for a multiple choice test. I obviously forgot it afterwards since I work typical hours and it’s a big office with on-site security, but given the fact that it sounds like she’s in a satellite office of a larger company it could be that they do have policies like this, but the message was never passed to remote employees.

    2. Squatter*

      I tithe, I volunteer with Habitat, I volunteer with food drives, I’ve done programs of making and distributing food to the hungry & homeless. Given out unpurchased food from my place of work to homeless long before there were “social programs” doing it.

      Worked for many many years in several positions that required me to take deposits to the bank after closing the office. I would refuse to do it unless I had an armed escort. Got it too.

      I am a gimpy female; a skilled martial artist; I know how to protect myself. I also know that the FIRST step of safety is to not do stupid things. If something spooks you; you have a right to react. Leaving an office, every day, at about the same time, by myself, carrying a bag that might contain $5 or $5000 (mugger won’t know how much I have), is really dumb. Same thing when I used to walk up the street to the bank everyday at lunch. I had an armed escort.

      Paranoid? Maybe. But a friend was mugged (and severely injured) in downtown London in the middle of the day by two men who had watched her cash a check & take cash out.
      Had a neighbor family that relocated from a war-torn area and the family was always given whatever they asked for (hey, they were poor & had nothing, of course if they needed something we gave it to them). The boy got so used to the idea that if he wanted it, he got it, he started going into people’s houses and taking what he wanted.

      Buy loiterers coffee? Food? Make friends with them? C’mon, really?? I don’t generally buy coffee out for myself, heck, I’m living close enough to the edge as it is.

      Yeah, I know, I come off like a bitch but the OP may have reason to be terrified.

  58. Annika Potato*

    Gonna be controversial here but my advice to the OP is this: it’s ok if you don’t want to be friends with the homeless people in your neighborhood or workplace. I wouldn’t be terrified as there is typically nothing to be afraid of, but feel free to disregard all the advice to become best friends, make coffee, make them your protectors blah blah blah, unless you want to.

    I live in a large anonymous city (concrete jungle where dreams are made of…) and love it. I live alone in a no doorman building specifically because I find even small social pleasantries exhausting after a long day. My home is my castle. And I love public transit because I can put my headphones in and zone out. I don’t want to talk to anyone! I also live near a church that runs a soup drive. Occasionally there are homeless people sitting on the steps outside the church. For a time, I would walk past and they would say hi, how are you doing, comments about the weather, working late today etc. Nothing offensive, nothing mean, nothing scary. I realized pretty quickly that I am not the kind of person who wants to spend the first or last few minutes of my day making small talk with anyone – homeless or not. I did not move to said city to a soul sucking job to be paying astronomical amounts in rent so I can live alone and be alone in order to acquire de facto doormen who track my daily activities. I don’t want to tell people when I am going to the store, or when I going for a run, why I am late home from work, didn’t come home last night blah blah blah. Pretty sure none of these people are my father and I’ll be damn*d if I’m going to answer to anyone about my life. It’s fine to have boundaries and most people do – regardless of all the guilt trips on this thread.

    Don’t be afraid but do what makes you happy.

    1. Annika Potato*

      Just wanna clarify – the soup kitchen was occasional but then became weekly but they were there daily. So it was everyday that they were there.

    2. Natalie*

      Generally I’m like you, but I don’t think this particular analogy holds. People aren’t suggesting she make a little small talk with these homeless people for the benefit of her social life or because they think she needs to get out more or “smile, sweetheart!” or any other annoying assumption that gets projected on people who are more private. The suggestion is being made *specifically* because the OP has said that she’s afraid of them, and doing a bit to get to know some of these regular homeless people could lessen that fear.

      1. Annika Potato*

        So would reading some statistics about homeless people and their general lack of violence. The comments read to me as nagging and self righteous. Why is the first response to a woman alone who feels afraid to be more friendly? Note, that is not what the expert Alison asked recommended. Poor OP. If only one of the homeless men had asked her to “smile”…

        1. Sam*

          I think that’s a little unfair to me (the first commenter). I simply gave my opinion based on my own experience, as a woman.

          1. Annika Potato*

            Advice can be based on personal experience and still ill-timed. But don’t worry – I for one feel relieved that with all the people buying homeless people coffee and coffee and befriending them, as they state they do on this thread, there probably really isn’t much of a homelessness problem left at all. Congrats! You saved them…

            1. Sam*

              Wow, just, wow. Rude and uncalled for. I’m done with this page if this is how people treat each other here.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s not how generally people treat each other here. Annika Potato, I understand this is a topic where people feel strongly, but can you lower the sarcasm, please?

      2. Hooptie*

        Maybe to the OP talking to a stranger who appears homeless is no different than talking to a stranger on the subway or the street or at the next table at a restaurant. There are many of us like that.

    3. Hooptie*

      This is fantastic and thank you for this. The OP has a genuine fear and no matter how often it is denied, a large proportion of replies on this post have basically pooh-poohed her fear, been condescending, and given her really crappy advice which in some cases could put her in more danger. I haven’t been on the site for a while but I find this ridiculous. I agree with Annika Potato – OP, do what makes you feel safe. Talk to your manager, call the police, whatever you need to do. But don’t feel obligated to make small talk or buy a stranger coffee just because someone tells you it is the right thing to do.

      1. aebhel*


        I don’t think that she has any obligation to buy coffee or make small talk, but I do think that separating “this person is threatening me” and “this person is visibly homeless” might be useful not only for her peace of mind but for her safety.

        1. Hooptie*

          Um, maybe she can’t separate it. Did you ever think of that? To me, a stranger sitting on a bench at a bus stop is no different than a stranger sleeping in a doorway. I don’t differentiate because I’m not capable of conceptualizing a difference. There is no amount of guilt trips or times of being told that I’m politically incorrect that will change it.

          As someone said below, I can’t believe that a community that so often recommends ‘The Gift of Fear’ would respond as you have to this question.

          It is not up to you or anyone else to downplay the OP’s fear. If she is using the word ‘terrified’, that is all she needs to say. There are some people here I really respect, like Katie the Fed and fposte, but right now I am furious. I can’t believe Alison allowed a letter writer to be dumped on like this. Honestly, the one person I’d love to hear from about this is Jamie but I don’t think she comes here very often anymore.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d actually refer you to fposte’s comments on this post, which I think have done a good job of pointing out that just because you fear something doesn’t mean it’s justified by the actual circumstances — which is a reasonable thing to point out when someone is asking for advice around taking action on that fear — and also noting that the Gift of Fear is about distinguishing when it does and doesn’t make sense to be steered by fear.

            I’m sorry this one is infuriating you. I think that if there are a bunch of people who you normally find smart and rational coming down on the other side of an issue than you are, it probably just means that reasonable people can see this one differently.

  59. HR Manager*

    I’ll try not to be judgmental in this response and offer something constructive. Business don’t like the homeless loitering around there building – I’m not debating the merits of the sentiment, but it’s the plain fact. Living in a big city where the homeless is very visible, there are overly aggressive panhandlers (my city seems home to many!), and then there are those who just are having a really rough patch or who panhandle and are more polite than my average coworker.

    An employee is not feeling safe, and the company should have an obligation to provide reasonable measures of safety. Does the building you work in have an onsite security person? Or are there security services offered by the landlord? Maybe your offices service team needs to have a chat about how to ensure the homeless are not lingering right in the doorway. They don’t have to be rude to them, but I can understand employees and clients not wanting to walk over people to gain entry for work or a meeting. And if they are doing their business there, that can be unpleasant for even the most sympathetic of employees. If the building does not have security, maybe it’s time they thought that. The liaison with the landlords should discuss putting a service in place to ensure that the building is safe and clean for all tenants and their employees.

    I do feel the OP describing herself as “terrified” is over the top. Most homeless people I’ve come across do panhandle, but unfortunately are used to being invisible to people and have not reacted violently because they don’t get charity. If the office is ever amenable to a volunteer day, I would recommend maybe a day at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or pulling something together for the folks who seem to find this building to be their only option for shelter.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I agree with you on everything except the OP describing herself as being “terrified” over the top. I think this kind of minimizes her experiences. I truly believe all homeless are not equal. I have seen them all from clean down to soiled and high/drunk and the latter can be pretty scary. As someone who has to deal with her share of street harassment (even now, as a mom with her small kid present!!!) from men (not homeless) who were obviously birthed from toothless women and raised inside sewer holes, I sympathize with the OP. It is a fear of the unknown, even just dialogue can be a little scary. I think if anything, this thread and all the awesome, realistic suggestions will really help the OP shed the “terrified”.

      1. HR Manager*

        Per her post – she writes of nothing more than their being there having “set up camp” – nothing indicates she has actually been injured or if the homeless has followed her or given her reason to be fearful, other than their existence nearby. Anxiety around the unknown? Sure. Heightened awareness? Would be smart. Being terrified? If you live in the city, and you’re terrified of everything new or different, you are in for rough times.

        @ TOC – I hear you – so I had qualified it with the homeless I come across. But to your point, if they are blending in, I suppose I wouldn’t know that they are homeless.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          I do not think she has to be injured or even touched or followed to be fearful. I do think that there are people on this planet whose presence alone can give a person a reason to be terrified. They don’t necessarily have to be homeless. I did not get the sense that anything new or different terrifies the OP (I know you may possibly have stated that in general) but I still feel the OP has the right to feel how they do in their situation. I am terrified of roller coasters and I wouldn’t like if someone told me “it’s only a fast speed at a high height” and that being terrified was unreasonable.

          FWIW, I live in a major cold city so I see homeless people all the time. Just passed by a few 5 minutes ago. It’s very rare these days that one makes me feel uncomfortable.

    2. TOC*

      I don’t think “most” homeless people panhandle. I know that’s not true in my city, at least. I think that’s an example of confirmation bias: we see the panhandlers (who aren’t always homeless) but we don’t notice all of the other people around us who are also experiencing homelessness but just blend in a little more. I’ve worked with plenty of homeless folks who don’t look, act, dress, speak, or smell differently than those with housing.

  60. Anonymous for this*

    There was a time in my early twenties where I was homeless and living I. My car (incidentally, I was also battling depression at the time). I was lucky enough to have access to help and now, ten years later, I’m married with a job and two kids and am ready to buy a house.

    If the only reason you’re scared of these people is because they’re different, please try to see that they’re not so different from you; it’s surprisingly easy to end up homeless and can be difficult to bounce back from.

    1. soitgoes*

      She’s scared of them because she keeps asking them to move and they keep showing up anyway. The homelessness is only relevant because very few other life situations would have someone sleeping in front of her office before sunrise.

      1. fposte*

        There’s no indication she’s asked them to move, though. Her office has called the cops on them; what the cops have done isn’t clear.

        The problem with dismissing homelessness as relevant is that they’re there because they don’t have any other place to go. It’s not like they’re there because they’re too lazy to take the train home and the cops’ intervention would have convinced them to take the train anyway. The reason they’re in somebody else’s space is that they have no space that isn’t somebody else’s space, whether it’s the OP’s or the doorway of the building next to hers. I don’t think that’s the same thing as somebody’s invasively choosing to be in your space when they could be in their own, and that’s not an option they have.

        1. Joey*

          I’m sorry, but calling the cops on them many times doesn’t likely mean they need to go away temporarily.

        2. soitgoes*

          I understand all of that, but it’s also not the OP’s obligation to take on the ills of society by continuing to endure a situation that makes her feel unsafe.

          This reminds me of conversations about, “Don’t teach women not to avoid rape; teach men not to rape.” In a perfect world, that would be the ideal route, but it’s not right to lambaste someone who isn’t interested in proving a point by putting herself at risk of bodily harm. It’s not her fault that the homeless people have nowhere else to go, and their presence is causing her real distress.

  61. Meg Danger*

    A lot of the comments I read echo Allison’s advice, but I am inclined to agree with the OP that this is an uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situation. Homelessness advocacy is important and rewarding work, but it is not her work, and it is a little privileged to say that that she should use her work time to make friends with strangers who are hanging out near her work entrance, much less purchase them coffee. Nothing wrong with making new friends, but… it’s not really part of her job, and some of the comments feel a little shame-y.

    Now I will reveal my bias, which is that I was homeless in my teens, and again briefly in my twenties. In my experience living in homeless communities means living with people who *are*, on average, more prone to violence (violence is different than mental illness, which is also more prevalent than average among the homeless, especially untreated mental illness), more prone to substance abuse (substance abuse was almost universal in the communities I knew), and more prone to unpredictable behavior in general. I can also say that women are at greater risk of violence in and by the homeless community.

    Also (unpopular opinion warning!), homeless people *can* be pretty unpleasant. Again, speaking from my (limited) experience, many homeless people cuss, smoke, and smell bad (I know I did). If a co-worker were sleeping outside the door to your office, if they used foul language, if they smelled like smoke, urine, or had general poor hygiene, or even if they just give you an uneasy feeling that you can’t exactly pin-down (I think all of these scenarios have appeared on htis blog in fact!), the dominant advice would not be to invest your resources in advocacy and buy them coffee.

    I guess I don’t really have any advice for the OP beyond protect yourself. Maybe carry pepper spray. Don’t anticipate the worst, but be prepared for the worst. Also, yeah, the people outside your work are probably a benign presence in your work life, but you do not need to feel ashamed of being uneasy about this aspect of your work.

    1. Nerd Girl*

      I agree with this wholeheartedly! I have not been homeless but have had several close friends and family members who have been. In all but one case (and there are 14 – which boggles my mind that I know that many people who have been homeless) the homelessness was a result of substance abuse. Alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin…all big factors in why they chose to sleep on the streets. And all big reasons why a lot of shelters couldn’t let them stay overnight. My cousin is currently serving time for attacking someone he knew for money for a heroin fix. He broke his friend’s arm, fractured several bones in his face, and did this in front of the friend’s children. And this was a person my cousin knew since grade school. He got $15 out of his friends wallet, ran, and was arrested later strung out on some bad stuff. I prefer to err on the side of caution and be prepared for the worst.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I also agree. I had an uncle who had a meth problem in his 50s. He got evicted and was homeless. To solve that problem and others, he killed himself. I’m not unsympathetic to the homeless, but the OP cannot determine if the folks camping outside her building are ones who are unpredictable or not. . .the thing about being unpredictable is past behavior does not predict future behavior : ) Sure, we don’t know when any of us might lose it, but I’m a lot less worried about my coworker in the next office than a stranger on the sidewalk.

    2. Christian Troy*

      I think this is a great comment. You can certainly be compassionate and empathetic to homeless people, but there are many situations that are not as straight forward as nice person who fell on hard times. I think some of these comments are putting too much responsibility on OP; she wants to do her job and go home like most people.

    3. LBK*

      If a co-worker were sleeping outside the door to your office, if they used foul language, if they smelled like smoke, urine, or had general poor hygiene, or even if they just give you an uneasy feeling that you can’t exactly pin-down (I think all of these scenarios have appeared on htis blog in fact!), the dominant advice would not be to invest your resources in advocacy and buy them coffee.

      That is a 100% different situation, though, because with a coworker you have bargaining chips and a level of social contract that doesn’t exist with random people. That being said…

      Don’t anticipate the worst, but be prepared for the worst.

      This is a great takeaway and one I think is a perfect bit of advice in a lot of personal safety situations. Save your sanity by trying to more objectively assess your risk, but also it doesn’t hurt to take some precautions. There are very few situations where your risk is truly none, regardless of who’s around you or where you are.

    4. Scott M*

      “Homelessness advocacy is important and rewarding work, but it is not her work”

      I like this answer

  62. Pixel*

    I have to agree with Alison’s advice, and the general comments by everyone here, and hope the OP can feel reassured by many of the personal stories here that homeless does not automatically equal violent.

    I’d like to add, though – it seems like the OP is working a LOT of hours (11 hours a day?) and also has to leave to pick up kids by 6pm. She mentions sometimes being the first employee in or last employee out and that her anxiety has compromised her productivity. Since she is worried that is is a safety issue, could she refuse to be the first/last employee at her office? I would think walking in at normal open hours and leaving with the other employees would be a way to feel safer, and seems a little more fair/in tune with the expectations of the other employees. I know she says she has a lot of work, but are the expectations on her hours really higher?

    I wish you the best OP, it seems like you would feel safer if you weren’t alone at those hours, which might be a stance you could take with your employer. I had a similar situation at a past job where I was sometimes leaving at 9-10pm because I wanted to be a dedicated employee and had way too much on my plate, and a coworker actually went to management about it as he was concerned for my safety. I’m just thinking that the real reason you are in a situation where you feel unsafe is that you are working more hours than all of your coworkers, and coming and going alone in the dark.

    1. JMegan*

      Agreed, and I imagine the OP is just darn tired as well. I work 9-5, and have to get my kids to and from day care, and groceries and laundry and bathtime and all the rest. It’s exhausting, and I can’t imagine tacking another three hours onto the work day on top of that.

      OP, if I’m right, it might be helpful to note that chronic “tiredness” can make your life difficult in a number of ways. I don’t know that there’s a magic solution to that either, short of the kids growing up and moving away from home. But I just want to say that I hope you have some support outside the workplace, and that you can get some time to yourself once in a while – it sounds like you have a busy life!

  63. WhoaBuddy*

    I am too scared to read the other comments, but I wanted to thank you for your level-headed response, AAM.

  64. Nerd Girl*

    Imagine if the letter read this way:
    Every day I come to work and there is a strange, well dressed man loitering outside of my workplace. I am usually the first one there and the last to leave and he’s always loitering near the entrance. My workplace is aware that he loiters and has had him removed but he keeps coming back. I find it terrifying.

    What would your advice be then? There’s this idea among the comments here that because the person is homeless that she owes it to the person to not be terrified, that she should be participating in some community outreach program to help the person. The person (people) in question have been removed, several times by the sound of it, and yet they return. She is a woman alone working early and late and has fear that she will be accosted. Why is it when someone receives an inappropriate secret santa gift people here are up in arms with concerns for her safety, but when a person has a real fear of people loitering in the dark after being told not to, when she’s alone and unprotected, she’s the one overreacting??

    1. Laurel Gray*


      I was a little saddened to read some comments that minimized the OP’s feelings and offered suggestions that while great in the general spirit of volunteerism, didn’t directly offer suggestions dealing with the matter at hand. I think because of the stigma around the homeless and mentally ill who happen to be homeless, people are doing themselves a service by advocating that “they are people too”. Yes, I get it, but the OP doesn’t feel safe and I think we owe it to her to be more encouraging and understanding.

      Like I mentioned previously, I have been a victim of street harassment for far too many years and counting. These men are usually not homeless and are loiterers hanging outside businesses or train stations and making lewd remarks about my body or generally verbally harassing me. I have even stopped patronizing certain businesses because of this. I do not call the police. I do not say anything to them, but it is scary and I generally feel that if these same men happened to cross paths with me somewhere dark with no witnesses, they would assault me.

      1. LBK*

        Is that supposed to say these men usually ARE homeless? Because as written, I’m not sure how this comment connects to the topic at hand, especially because the OP doesn’t outline any inappropriate behavior by these people aside from their placement.

      2. Observer*

        I’m not sure what you are getting at. You’ve been harassed by guys who you are fairly certain are NOT homeless. Would it really be worse if these guys were homeless. Why would you be MORE scared of guys who are NOT harassing you than of guys who ARE, just because the first group are homeless.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          My comments were responding to Nerd Girl’s post and particularly the part about how people seem to feel that the OP shouldn’t be terrified because the homeless people are most likely harmless. She even posed a good hypothetical. Homeless or not a person has the right to be terrified, skeeved out, creeped out, uneasy etc by a stranger on the street – particularly one who is loitering. I never said it would be worse if the men were homeless nor did I say I would be more scared of homeless people. I think the issue at hand is a woman’s feeling of safety.

    2. Helka*

      If the letter had read that way, the natural inference would be that this well-dressed stranger loitering outside the office has a reason to be there — and we would be asking what he’s doing there. (In fact, if the police had been called on him, we would all be very interested to know what his answer to the police was.)

      With people who are homeless, we know why they’re there — it’s some modicum of shelter from the elements. That question is taken off the table.

    3. Zillah*

      Because they’re completely different situations?

      A strange man loitering outside who has no reason to be there is frightening in a way that a man who works in an adjacent building and takes frequent cigarette breaks is not, because in the first example, his attention is focused on you, where in the second, his attention is not. The fact that the homeless people the OP is talking about don’t seem to be paying any attention to her specifically makes them significantly less frightening than the creepy guy who stares at you every day when you leave. Similarly, when someone gives you an inappropriate Secret Santa gift, they’ve given you specific reason to feel uncomfortable – they purposely went out and did something they knew would make you uncomfortable. That’s creepy.

      The people the OP is talking about are just sleeping – they don’t seem to be paying any attention to her at all, from what she’s said. It’s also not clear that they’re the same people, nor is it clear that the cops have done anything more than tell them to move along – and I suspect that that isn’t an uncommon occurrence. If they never went back to a place the cops shooed them out of, would they have anywhere left to go?

      1. Nerd Girl*

        Where in my example that the well-dressed man was creepy or staring? Why is it okay for you to assume that with my example and be okay with being concerned for her safety but it’s not okay to make assumptions the other way? I logically understand that not all homeless people are attackers, like I know that not all well dressed men are stalkers but I am well within my rights to not be shamed into assuming this when I am a woman alone in a situation where my safety may be at risk.

        As to the homeless people in the OP’s letter being asleep. I re-read it. She actually stated that she’s not even sure if they’re awake or asleep.

        1. Zillah*

          Sorry – I must have misread what you were implying. If you were just talking about a well-dressed man who’s hanging around not paying any particular attention to anyone, I’m not sure what rights the business would even have to remove him from public property – i.e., the sidewalk. Additionally, to have your example line up with what the OP is talking about, we might be talking about different men – so it wouldn’t even just be one man, but any man loitering outside the business, which would be pretty ridiculous.

          As far as whether or not the homeless people are asleep: look, if the OP can’t even tell if they’re awake or asleep, it seems like they’re probably not paying much attention to her.

    4. LBK*

      The difference is that most people wouldn’t take stock in or even notice someone like that hanging around frequently because the perceived danger is lower (in most people’s minds). The homeless create an inherent fear of violent behavior for some people, hence being more aware and more afraid of them whether they’re actually violent people are not.

      Point being, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that these people are going to do something violent or dangerous to the OP, so the fear seems unfounded. If that well-dressed guy were loitering around every day for months with no other problematic behavior, it would probably be the same response, because…well, who cares? Why be afraid of a random person?

      1. Jennifer*

        I would be worried if a random well dressed man was just hanging around the area, no question. Any random person hanging around in the vicinity every morning as I’m alone and opening at 4 a.m. would worry me! You just tend to red flag people if you say the person hanging around the door is homeless. (Then again, if it’s a well dressed guy, he’s possibly stalking.)

  65. Katieinthemountains*

    I agree that most homeless people are not violent, but aren’t they more likely to be untreated mentally ill than the average populace and more likely to be male, which makes them more intimidating? And they are actually blocking access for the OP. I am astonished that the consensus here seems to be, “Suck it up, Buttercup!” Befriending them might work just fine and terror may be an overreaction, but I would be quite intimidated and very uncomfortable if I had to wake up, step over, or get very close to any group of strangers to access my building. Remember that the OP has to unlock and unalarm the building – can she see the door from her desk, or could someone enter without her realizing? Does she have her hands full with a work laptop, lunch, etc., and what kind of key/keypad entry is it? How long does she have to stand with her back to strangers getting in? How long does it take her to get to her car? How well lit is the entry and the parking lot? Are there nearby businesses that are open at those hours, or is she really alone except for the homeless people when she’s in the parking lot?
    OP has a real safety concern and her managers are blowing her off.

    1. Zillah*

      They are indeed much more likely to be mentally ill than the general population (not sure about gender). That doesn’t make them more like to be violent.

      1. Iro*

        Mentally ill are often irrational and can indeed be more violent. If someone has the learning capacity of a small child, yet the physical prowess of an adult it can be a dangerous situation even if the individual is not a “violent” mental illness case. Just think about how likely 3 year olds are to throw a tantrum and hit something before they learn the self control and compsure to behave more rationally.

        For a very real example, I worked the special olympics fundraiser and booths at my company last year and one of our visiting athletes became suddenly very angry at a co-worker the moment she walked in the door. I don’t know if her sweater upset him, her perfume, or what, but suddenly he started screaming at this woman who he had never seen before and started shoving chairs around. He had to be taken away by his attendent.

        Now put that individual on the street without a support system and the situtation can deteriote fast.

        1. TOC*

          This is conflating mental illness with cognitive disabilities. It’s not accurate to suggest that all people experiencing mental illness (and not even all of those who are also homeless and/or unpredictable) have “the learning capacity of a small child.” That’s just so far from the truth that I can’t let that statement stand unchallenged.

          1. Iro*

            I never said all people with cognitive disabilities or those experiencing a mental illness have the capacity of a small child. I said if someone has

        2. Zillah*

          1) Mental illness =/= intellectual disability. What you’re describing – “someone [with] the learning capacity of a small child, yet the physical prowess of an adult” has an intellectual disability. They’re not anything remotely approaching the same thing.

          2) If you’re going to make statements like that, I’d like to see some actual statistics, not anecdotes.

          1. Iro*


            Bi polar and schitzophrenics are more likely to be violent than those without these mental illnesses.
            People with mental illness and substance abuse are much more likely to be violent than a normal population.

            The differences aren’t huge, we are talking 5% vs 27% in the worst case jump of violent acts. However, even 25% is enough to give me pause.

            Walking down a street I don’t have these statistics memorized or easily accesible (no smart phone here) all I have are my experiences, my anecdotes, and it’s enough for me to sympathize with the OP some.

            1. Whippers*

              You haven’t addressed your conflation of mental illness with learning disability though. That’s more egregious to me than not having access to statistics.

              1. Iro*

                I did in a comment below. There are a lot of concurrent conversations occurnig here.

                I can see why you thought I believe mental illness = severerly mentally disabled though because I did not do a good job explaining that. This is a bit meta, but what I was trying to address, although I did a poor job, is what people are likely referring to when they refer to “mentally ill” people on the street. A lot of people who pass by are not going to differentiate between mentally ill, severly/moderately disabled, and sometimes even substands abuse. It often get’s swept up into someone saying that person is “ill”

    2. Iro*

      ^ This.

      Plus I guess I just don’t get why, well they have no where else to go, is an okay excuse for this? Blocking an entrance just isn’t okay and a lot of the commenters saying “befriend/get to know” keep brushing over the fact that they are blocking her from accessing her workplace.

        1. Iro*

          It’s not a viable explanation for me either. Why not go to a shelter instead? Why repeatedly return to a place police have escorted you out of?

          “Because I”m homeless” just does not work for me as an answer here.

          1. KerryOwl*

            Where are you going with this? You don’t think the homeless people should be loitering at her entrance. Fine. But they are. So now we have to find ways to deal with the situation. Saying “you guys shouldn’t be here” over and over again isn’t going to fix it. Alison made suggestions, and so has the commentariat here. No one is saying “they are supposed to be there,” they are saying “here is why they are there.” Because they ARE there. Just because the proposed explanations aren’t “good enough” for, that doesn’t make them disappear in a poof of smoke. You can’t logic them out of existence. You deal with the situation as it is.

            1. Iro*

              We may be meddling strongly in pedantics in this but …

              A lot of posts have stated that, while it would be perfectly reasonable to fear people who continually loiter in her place of business for no aparent reason, it’s unreasonable to fear homeless people who continually loiter there because they loiter because they are homeless.

              I’m saying that to me, the explanation that I am continually loitering here despite being escorted away by police doens’t suddenly, to use your term, logic my fear out of existence. There are still strangers blocking my way into and out of the building everyday and that is scary and it’s okay to be scared even if they are homeless just like it would be okay to be scared if they weren’t.

                1. Iro*

                  She did mention that she calls the police whenever there is a “newcomer” which led me to believe there was a individual or group returning repeatedly.

          2. soitgoes*

            Yeah, a lot of these explanations fall short of being actual reasonable justifications for supposed adult behavior. “They don’t want to go to shelters because shelters have rules.” And…? Someone giving you a free place to stay is allowed to have rules. My apartment building has rules.

            1. KerryOwl*

              You’re not actually saying that people are homeless because they’re not trying hard enough, are you? Because that’s what it sounds like you’re saying. It sounds like you’re saying that homeless people deserve to be homeless because if they really wanted to, they could stop being homeless. I am not trying to put words into your mouth, but it really sounds like that is what you are saying. That being homeless is a result of not being able to behave like an adult.

              1. Iro*

                I didn’t interpret soitgoes statement like that at all. He was specifically talking about choosing not to go to a shelter.

          3. TOC*

            Shelters are not some magical cure-all for homelessness. Some are unsafe, dirty, overcrowded, and stressful. They’re not the kind of places anyone would want to go. But even nice shelters aren’t suitable for everyone. They often require people be separated from the partners, family members, or pets–their sources of support and strength. They’re busy, full places, which can be really stressful and make any mental health issues worse. They might have a curfew that keeps you from being able to go there because your job ends too late at night and you can’t get back to the shelter in time. There are dozens of other reasons that are entirely legitimate as to why someone would prefer to sleep somewhere other than a shelter, and would even take the risk of being asked to move along every night rather than sleep in somewhere much less safe.

            The real problem is that our communities (I’m not directing this at any one person) have accepted “homeless shelter” as the magical fix for homelessness. We think that as long as we provide a blanket on a Salvation Army floor, we’ve solved the problem. Homeless service providers know that’s not true. People thrive in homes, real homes with decency and safety and support. Many people avoid shelters. Few avoid an offer of permanent and safe housing of their own.

            1. AnonAnalyst*

              I’ll also add that there are some shelters where there’s just too much demand. When I was working in the area where I used to frequently encounter homeless people, there were a couple of shelters nearby, one within a few blocks. However, several of the homeless people I sort of knew (we would talk when we would see each other but that was about the extent of it) would talk about not being able to get in. If you went past the one that was closest to my workplace during the day, people would literally be lining up around the block starting early in the morning to try to secure a place there for the night. This was particularly frustrating for people that were trying to work, since they could pretty much not do that AND stay in the shelter. I suspect it became an ‘either-or’ decision for a lot of people, which is really just a terrible situation.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              Thank you. I keep telling myself I won’t come back to this thread and then I do and I get all screamy and then I see someone like you who makes me feel better. Have you been following the communities that have reduced homelessness by giving people actual homes. I know, I know, cue the moral outrage because obviously they don’t deserve free homes, but it’s actually been shown to reduce systemic homelessness because once people are in homes they are in better positions to address some of the root causes – drugs/alcohol, mental illness, chronic unemployment, etc.

              Alison, if you’re reading the comments, thanks for letting the discussion go off on a few tangents in this case – I think/hope it’s been educational for some.

            3. Camster*

              And, not all cities have shelters (like the one I live in and is fairly large). It’s not like the homeless people in my city can just take a bus or whatever and go somewhere else where there is a shelter.

  66. Chinook*

    I once worked in a section of a city where DH was nervous about me working because of the various crimes in the area (selling drugs, open prostitution, drunks in the sleep). I never had an issue because I worked there during the day. Our boss kept trying to convince our owners in another country to let us move not only because of the lcoation but the number of employees was outgrowing our space. No dice – too expensive, we can make do, etc.

    Big boss came for his annual visit. When the two of them walked across the street to lunch, Big Boss was propositioned by one of the prostitutes. Move was approved within the week. Local boss swore up and down he didn’t set the whole thing up but was quite grateful it happenned.

  67. Kobayashi*

    I like Alison’s response –mostly, but I feel it is a bit too dismissive of the OPs fears. We don’t know the real circumstances or the behaviors of the persons camping in front of the building. It is true that most people who are homeless are not at all violent. I work in downtown in a city, and there are a fair number of homeless persons. As a kid, my parents were one who even occasionally came home with a wanderer and invited the person to stay for a few nights (possibly not the best idea when one has kids, but it always worked out well). However, as others have stated, a significant percentage of people who are homeless have mental health issues, and unfortunately, many communities lack proper mental health resources. And, just like others, I’ve encountered homeless people who are erratic and aggressive, though the vast majority are not. I understand the OPs fears — and the one piece of advice I agree with is, unless they are behaving erratically, you shouldn’t feel terribly alarmed. However, I can certainly understand your fear when coming and going along when it’s dark. When I was in law school, I had a night class. One night, I walked to my car in the nearby parking lot, the overhead light was out, and a homeless person approached me to ask for money. I declined to give any and the person rushed me. I got into my car just in time as the man slammed his fists into my window and yelled an obscenity at me. So, not all homeless persons are nice and harmless, and let’s not pretend that’s the case with a population where somewhere around 75% suffer from mental illness or addiction. BUT most are harmless and many are downright nice people.

    1. Zillah*

      I don’t think 75% of people who are homeless suffer from a mental illness or addiction. The number I’ve seen is 20-25% of homeless people suffer from a mental illness, which would require 50-55% of all homeless people to have an addiction (with no overlap). That seems really high to me – can you tell me where you got that?

      Regardless, though, this:

      It is true that most people who are homeless are not at all violent… However, as others have stated, a significant percentage of people who are homeless have mental health issues, and unfortunately, many communities lack proper mental health resources.

      is connecting violence and mental health issues in a really inaccurate and inappropriate way. I know I’m repeating myself, but this is such a deeply harmful stereotype and I don’t want to let it slip by without addressing it, especially since unfortunately, it’s only becoming more entrenched in our cultural narrative about mental illness. A significant percentage of people who are homeless do have a mental illness, and the mental illness frequently contributes to their homelessness – but the fact that mental illness is far more prevalent among people who are homeless doesn’t make them more likely to be violent. People with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the instigators.

      1. Iro*

        Also repeating myself, but mentally ill are more likely to react unpredictably to situations in ways that can include violence.

        If someone does not have the mental capacity to understand the situation they may become irrationally afraid or defensive even if they are not categorized as “violent.”

        1. Zillah*

          Mental illness and intellectual disabilities are not the same thing. Like, at all. They’re completely different conditions. Why are you equating them?

          1. Iro*

            If you are shitzophrenic, and due to chemical imbalances percieve perfectly normal action Y to mean imminent danger to my person, and thus reactive “defensively” you do not have the mental capacity to react rationally to the situation. I’m not saying this is an “intellectual disability”.

            Now an entierely different population, severaly mentally limited individuals who can not comprehend situations due to low IQ can also react violently. They need full time care, but they may not get it because they are not “mentally ill” in the strict sense and thus don’t have those resources available to them (such as medicaide throughout adulthood in US of even Social Security benefits).

            1. Zillah*

              But you didn’t answer my question. Why are you so insistent that mental illness and intellectual disabilities are related? You did it in this post, too:

              but they may not get it because they are not “mentally ill” in the strict sense and thus don’t have those resources available to them (such as medicaide throughout adulthood in US of even Social Security benefits).

              Unless they also have a mental illness, they’re not mentally ill in any sense – they have a different condition. All erratic or violent behavior is not the result of mental illness.

              Moreover, I have no idea what resources you’re talking about – mentally ill people don’t have a huge amount of resources available to them in this country. I’ve certainly never heard of someone offered Medicaid throughout adulthood because they had a mental illness, and even if they were, it wouldn’t necessarily do much good – there aren’t anywhere near enough psychiatrists and therapists who take Medicaid to handle the number of people enrolled who require their services.

              1. Zillah*

                Also, beyond this entire debate: why is this relevant and why is it coming up? If we want to have a conversation about public services for people with intellectual disabilities on the weekend open thread, I’d be game for it, but it has nothing to do with the question.

              2. Iro*

                You are putting a lot of words in my mouth.
                I never said that mentally ill have a huge amount of resources available to them
                I never said that all erratic of violent behavior is the result of mental illness

                I can see why you think I think mental illness = intellecutal disability because I did not phrase this well at all. It’s very meta, but in general I’m referring to everyone in the homeless group who gets grouped by passer-bys as “mentally ill” and I believe this group contains both people who are mentally ill and those who are intellectually disabled. I think there are more likely to be intellectually disabled on the streets because there are less resources for them than those with mental illness. For example, go to the medicaide site and read up about the people with disabilities coverage. It covers psyciatry amongst other things.

                The people on the street, be they mentally ill (bi polar, schitzoprhenic, etc), intellecutally disabled, addicted to substances, or any combination of the above, or NONE of the above need help. However, they are also in a mental state that can be (can be not always since you have twisted this on me before) more likely to become violent. Seeing a homeless person asleep blocking a door I have no way to know what state they are in, and I don’t blame the OP for being afraid to rouse them due to the risk, even if its only 25% more likely to be a violent response.

                1. Iro*

                  Messed up a sentance want to be crystal.

                  However, they are also in a mental state that can be (can be not always since you have twisted this on me before) more likely to become violent.

                  Should read however, people who are mentally ill, or intellectually disabled, or addicted to substances or any combiniation of the above are in a mental state that can be (can be not always) more likely to become violent.

                2. Zillah*

                  I don’t think arguing is going to get us anywhere but more distracted from the OP’s actual question, so I’m going to drop this.

                  As someone on Medicaid who has to pay far more money out of pocket than she can afford to get decent treatment for her mental illness, though, I suggest that you do a lot more reading on the subject – it’s a lot more complicated than you seem to think it is. If you’d like to talk about health care options for people with mental illnesses in the open thread on Sunday, I’d be happy to do so.

                3. Iro*

                  You are confusing “some support is available” with “the treatement and support available is enough to support this population in way that allows them to be successful regardless of their social class”

                  The second is certainly not true but that doesn’t mean that the first isn’t.

      2. Kobayashi*

        Take all stats with a grain of salt, but Mental Illness & Substance Use
        Data from research conducted in the past five years indicates thatxi xii xiii:
        • About 30% of people who are chronically homeless have mental health conditions.
        • About 50% have co-occurring substance use problems.
        According to analyses of data from the 1996 NSHAPCxiv:
        • Over 60% of people who are chronically homelessness have experienced lifetime mental
        health problems
        • Over 80% have experienced lifetime alcohol and/or drug problems
        page 4
        But this really is going askew to the OPs question. Regardless of the number, most resources you can find on a quick Google search show that mental illness or substance abuse afflicts a higher percentage of homeless persons than nonhomeless persons (and in many cases contributes to the homelessness). It’s not a condemnation of those who are homeless and have psychiatric illnesses but, rather, a statement about society and priorities, unfortunately. None of that alleviates the OPs unease, I’m sure, whether or not the people loitering around her entrance are individually problematic.

        1. Iro*

          But it doesn’t askew the OPs questions because it lends credence to the argument that there is at least as much to fear from a homeless loiterer as there is any other loiterer (maybe more due to the increased probability of violence caused by a combination of mental illness and substance abuse problems) and many in the “buy them coffee, sit down and have a chat” crowd have tried to claim that because they are homeless and the reason they are there is that they are homeless the OP should be less concerned then if the loiter wasn’t homeless.

  68. John*

    “Although public camping is now illegal in some cities, mostly the police will just tell homeless people to move along. And this pulls police officers and resources away from where they may be needed more.” That last part is actually a dangerous myth, and it leads people to avoid calling the police for relatively minor, quality-of-life infractions when they really should call. The police prioritize 911 calls. No police will be following up on a noise complaint, for example, when a violent crime has been reported. I’m not saying that this poster should call the cops on these homeless people; I’m just saying that when an actual crime is being committed or has been committed, people shouldn’t avoid calling the police for fear that the police might be needed more urgently elsewhere. The police will be sent where they are needed most. In fact, underreporting crimes hurts communities in the long run. It leads to poor allocation of resources and inaccurate crime stats.

    1. Tabby*

      I disagree with your non-advice, here Alison. This is certainly a safety and security issue and the company absolutely has a responsibility to deal with the problem. Some homeless folks are harmless and nice people, sure, but where I live, and I can only assume my city is not special, the homeless population have trouble with mental illness and substance abuse, and do sometimes become violent. This is not something a lone woman needs to deal with every day just trying to get to work. I’m not saying the homeless folks don’t deserve compassion, certainly they do, but the building manager or whomever is in charge of managing the building (there has to be someone) needs to get on top of dealing with this, whether it means forging a relationship with a local homeless shelter, etc. Also I find it really condescending to this LW to assume her fears are baseless.

    2. soitgoes*

      I agree. “Don’t call the police; take it into your own hands instead” is almost never the best course of action when you feel unsafe.

    3. Lizzy*

      I think you missed the point. Alison and other commentators aren’t saying don’t call the police at all; they are suggesting to not call the cops just because there are homeless people present. You don’t think police departments get enough calls complaining about homeless populations as is?

      1. Tabby*

        I feel like all of you telling her to just deal with it have missed the point. She feels unsafe going to work, and not irrationally; that’s not ok for her her employer to force on her.

  69. Finny*

    This one is hard. I’ve been on both sides of the door, so to speak. The person opening the building, and the homeless person in the way.

  70. AB*

    The biggest mistake OP made was to say “homeless people” instead of just “people”

    We have quite an interesting collection of people (I will not comment on their residential status, because honestly, I’m not sure what is is, nor does it factor into my opinion of them) that linger and loiter around our business and quite a few of them are hostile, aggressive, yell at people, make lewd comments to women – just happened again today in fact. Enough so that if I saw a random person or people obviously loitering in front of our building, I tense up because I have been shouted at and propositioned many times in the years I’ve worked here. As a woman, in the dark, if I see a person just hanging out (meaning someone that clearly has no business at our building, which is not a public facing building) I will have my guard up and this is due to past experience.

    I totally agree that you cannot categorize all homeless people because its A) completely incorrect and B) has clouded this whole conversation. OP has a bunch of random people loitering and blocking her way into a building and she is a woman, alone, at night/very early morning. She’d be stupid to not be aware of her situation and personal safety.

  71. Ragnelle*

    This is timely as we have several people who camp overnight at my workplace, and my coworkers and I had a similar discussion about what we should do. I do want to point out that not all communities have adequate (or even existent) outreach services for the homeless–depending on where she is, the OP may not have a shelter or advocacy group to call to ask for advice. Also, most homeless people probably know far, far more than anyone about what services are available and have reasons for using or not using them. Approaching a person to say, “here’s some information about the shelter across town” may be a bit paternalistic. No matter how she may feel–terrified of these people or sympathetic to their plight or a little of both–trying to “fix” their homelessness is outside her purview and doesn’t solve the immediate problem. I am deeply saddened that we live in a world where people in need aren’t provided food and shelter, but I also know there aren’t many individual solutions for systematic problems.

    OP, approach your management with this information if you haven’t already and ask for some safety measures, including better opening/closing procedures, more lighting, and possibly a security officer. If the management has balked at this, please let them know how many times you have called the police and that you feel it is a major safety concern that is impacting your ability to work. If they prove intractable beyond that, take whatever personal safety measures you feel appropriate (pepper spray, etc.) and look for a better employer who values their workers’ safety and well-being.

  72. aebhel*

    OP, honestly, I don’t think you should feel obligated to buy coffee, volunteer at a homeless shelter, or make friends…but I do think it would be really useful, for your perceived and real safety, to separate your discomfort with homeless people from a reasonable fear of people who are behaving in an inappropriate or threatening manner.

    If you are being harassed or threatened, that is absolutely a safety issue and you should call the police. If people are sleeping in the entry, though–that’s less easy. I’m a fairly confrontational person, and I have told people, “look, I’m sorry, but you can’t sleep here.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t–but the same goes for calling the cops.

    I also second the advice to reach out to your local homeless shelter system, just because they’re going to know better what resources are available, and would be able to give you more specific advice.

    And honestly, if it continues to be a problem–contact your employers, explain the situation, and tell them that you are no longer comfortable working in that office alone. Ask directly for what you think would solve the problem–either a move to a different office, or a security guard, or what have you. Unfortunately, there’s no magic button to ‘solve’ homelessness and the plethora of related social ills, so amelioration is really all you can hope for.

    If your employer is unwilling to help out, then it might be worth considering whether or not this job is worth it.

  73. SJCommenter*

    I often read comments and rarely respond; however, I feel compelled to weigh in on this thread. I live in an area with a disproportionate number of homeless people. I have spent many hours volunteering at shelters, and I’ve also reached out to individuals on the street. I am married to a law enforcement officer who has extensive experience with the homeless population in our city. My husband and I are compassionate people who try to help others whenever possible. That said, I have had some very frightening interactions with homeless individuals. I also grew up in an extremely violent household with a schizophrenic parent. Because of this, I bristle when people minimize other’s fears and regurgitate statistics citing the low incidence of violence among the mentally ill. It only takes one individual and one incident to inflict serious injury. My husband deals with a whole range of individuals from those who are temporarily homeless to those with serious substance abuse or mental health issues. Sometimes he’s discouraged by the community’s negative response to homeless individuals. Sometimes he finds that certain individuals are potentially dangerous. If the OP is frightened, there may be reasons not indicated in her letter to support her anxiety. I believe that encouraging her to befriend the homeless (and even purchase food/clothing) is unrealistic and not particularly helpful in this situation. I think it’s imperative to respect the dignity of every living being, but I don’t feel comfortable reading so many comments poised to shame the OP for her feelings.

    1. Kobayashi*

      I agree. I get Allison’s point and the point many others are making. I also thought the OP was perhaps jumping the gun a bit on how terrified she sounds, BUT I can definitely visual and understand being alone at night, leaving work or coming in first thing in the morning and unlocking the building. It’s a vulnerable position to be in.

  74. Seedling*

    Dear OP, there is no* need to be worried about homeless people around your office. They’re just people without a fixed address. They won’t hurt you. Instead of calling the police, how about you buy them a coffee?

    * As in, no more dangerous than any other person in society. Speaking as a female who works in a homeless shelter.

  75. Preston*

    First I didn’t read every comment, but I did read a lot of them from what I would call the regular commenters. I am just awed by the compassion and reasonableness of the responses. There are still good people in the world it seems. Lots of good advice for the Letter Writer too. Hope we get an update.

  76. Krystal*

    I think it depends on the city. I wouldn’t befriend the homeless people near my office, but I work fairly close to a men’s shelter whose mission is to care for longer-term homeless men. After making the mistake exactly once of making eye contact and then getting followed for a few blocks, I’ll never do that again.

    She can reach out to a nonprofit working with the homeless for assistance.

  77. Basiorana*

    Install a very bright light that you can turn off and on via a pocket sized remote.

    When you are preparing to walk through (outside waiting to get in, or inside waiting to get out), gently flash the light a couple times to wake sleepers, and from a clear distance, loudly say “Excuse me! Sorry to disturb you, but I need to get through. Can you please keep the doorway clear from 6:50 AM to 6:10 PM?”

    Unlike leaving a bright light on, people won’t become accustomed to the light and ignore it. More importantly, because you’re being respectful (though at a distance to help you feel more comfortable) and aren’t objecting to them sleeping there as long as it’s really not being used, they’ll be respectful in kind.

  78. SJLW*

    Thank You SJCommenter! I’ve been reading Ask The Manager for a few years. This is the first time I’ve ever left a comment on any site. The writer was obviously asking YOU (Ask The Manager) for help and your help was to treat her like she was the one with the problem. The stress of going to work every morning, stepping over people she doesn’t know, and going into an empty office building while they are laying outside is obviously a problem for her or she wouldn’t have asked you for help. I keep seeing the comment “most” homeless people aren’t harmless, let’s befriend the homeless and give them coffee. Can you help her figure out which ones are the “harmless” people and which ones aren’t? Her safety probably should have been your first concern, then maybe some sound advice like – contact your home office for their advice, speak with the police about what can be proactively done, etc. http://www.sandiego.gov/police/services/prevention/tips/homeless.shtml states some ways to handle “Dealing with Homeless People.” One of their tips is to: “Do not offer food or money. It may encourage more panhandling.” You’ll notice that I offered a credible source (San Diego PD – a government site).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I certainly didn’t intend for my advice to be “you’re the one with the problem,” and I brought in someone who works with homeless people to give practical advice since it’s outside my wheelhouse. But I do think the the letter-writer is more terrified (her word!) than is justified by the situation, and that it’s going to be good for her quality of life and peace of mind to look at the situation a little differently.

      It’s not uncommon for me to tell letter-writers on all sorts of topics here that their reaction to a situation doesn’t seem to be quite lining up with the reality that they’re describing; I do that when I think it will be genuinely helpful, not in order to make anyone feel bad.

      1. Lamb*

        (Late to the party, I know)
        The thing is, most commenters, even when they acknowledge her fear, assume that it is unwarranted. Even you (AAM) say her terror “is more… than is justified by the situation”. We talk about The Gift of Fear and how great it is to let go of vague non-helpful fears so we can listen to our gut. What if her gut is right? She is terrified of the homeless people around the building in general, but it could be that while they all make her uncomfortable there are one or a few who give her a specific wiggins (thank you Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a useful word), that her intuition says “uh oh, steer clear of that person”, and she has generalized it to the group? We are just ignoring the possibility that there is a dangerous person mixed in with the other homeless people around her office when we try to convince her that her fears shouldn’t be listened to. In fact, we’re doing what The Gift of Fear is trying to counteract; telling her to ignor and discount her own fear in favor of someone else’s assessment of her situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But all the OP has said about the people near her office is that they’re homeless. That’s not shorthand for “threatening.” They’re just … homeless.

          As I just wrote below in response to a different comment, I don’t think it makes sense to affirm someone’s terror (terror!) of any single demographic group, any more than it would be okay to affirm someone’s intense fear of all people of race X or all people of age Y.

    2. Wo and Shade, Importers*

      SJLW: unfortunately, I totally agree. OP wrote because she was scared coming in to / leaving work. Addressing her safety should be top priority. Telling her that her fear isn’t justified and that it doesn’t align with reality is, simply, wrong.

  79. My $0.02*

    We have a homeless/transient problem outside our office too, and sometimes the people start yelling/screaming/threatening, sometimes they walk the other way and say nothing, and sometimes they pull down their pants and start using the bathroom right then and there during broad daylight. One time I got to work and found a pile of something very unpleasant blocking the front entrance (and it was not from a dog/cat…) You just never know.

  80. frequentflyer*

    Isn’t there a security guard for your office building? They’re quite common and I would think that if there were so many people loitering around, the company/building owner would definitely want some security around.

  81. Sarah G*

    Hey there. I’m the friend quoted in Alison’s response to the OP. I don’t have time to read all 470 comments, but I did skim through them and read quite a few. I like that in Alison’s response, she acknowledges that the OP may feel justifiably unsettled by strangers loitering outside her workplace, but that feeling “terrified” could be a disproportionate reaction. The OP doesn’t indicate in the letter that any of these people have acted in a way that caused her to feel threatened or unsafe. In general, there are a lot of unknowns here. I thought long and hard about how I would advise the OP, since my own reaction would be to talk with the people camped there, as many commenters suggested. But if the OP felt comfortable doing this, she probably would have already done so. It seems she has been calling the police to ask these folks to move because she feels uncomfortable or unsafe communicating with them directly. Nowhere did she indicate that she asked them to move and they refused, as one commenter suggested had happened. In my suggestions, I was trying to be realistic as to how the OP could improve the situation without interacting with the homeless directly, since it seemed that was a boundary for her. The suggestions to volunteer at a homeless shelter, etc, are good ones, and if the OP is able and willing to do this, that would probably be a great experience and would shift her perspective some. I was trying to offer practical solutions that would be within the OP’s comfort zone, since that seems to be what she’s asking.

      1. Sarah G*

        You’re welcome. Happy to help AAM any time. Thank you for addressing a difficult and sensitive topic!

  82. limepink22*

    So this was a great read so far, but i have a practical suggestion. The OP can look up the Cuff bracelet (im getting one myself soon! ) it’s a pedometer, phone tracker, and a one button press to send out a gps tracked call for help to your emergency contact list. It also triggers audio on your phone, so your EC can hear what’s going on. I do believe most cities and society as a whole needs to invest more in treatment, and we should all be voting that way and lobbying or local government to enact kinder laws re:homelessness. However, the Op is not a 1 woman crusade, it’s good to be safe, as a random stranger can attack her while she’s busy being scared of the homeless!

  83. The Bookworm*

    I had dinner with some friends tonight & they recommended the book “Same Kind of Different as Me”. It is story of the friendship that developed between a homeless man and an upper class couple.

  84. Wo and Shade, Importers*

    I give this column (and most of the commenters except for Nerd Girl and HR Manager) a big FAIL for second-guessing the LW and going off on a meaningless tangent about homelessness.

    OP is a woman who frequently comes to work and leaves work alone, and has daily encounters with people who scare her. “Be nice to homeless people” is not a legitimate answer.

    OP: you need to contact someone at your business and tell them about your situation. Call the distant home office if necessary. If you can safely take pictures of the people who are scaring you, do that and send them along. Do not be afraid to make a big stink about this. Do not allow anyone to belittle you for feeling unsafe. Until your employer addresses your concerns, do not go to work early or leave alone. Your safety and your life is infinitely more important than your job.

    1. Student*

      Why do you think women should go around being afraid of strangers? That is supremely unrealistic, and it is irrational.

      The large majority of violence against women is committed by people they know, often by people they like and trust. Family and friends are more dangerous to a woman than any random stranger.

      Men, on the other hand, have reason to fear strangers. Men get attacked by strangers at much higher rates than women. Maybe they should cower at the front of their office buildings.

      1. nep*

        Supremely unrealistic? Really?

        (By the way, I don’t have an image of the OP cowering in front of her office building; rather of a responsible person looking to ensure that she can get to work and do her job the rest of her daily tasks efficiently and with as little added stress as possible.)

      2. Iro*

        I think any person in this vulnerable situation (rousing sleeping strangers) should be cautious.

        And I won’t derail the convo by going to deep into your statement about men being “far more likely to be victims of violent crime by strangers than women” but one population that really confounds this statement is gang victims who are also memebers. Sure, men are much more likely to be the victims of gang homicides then women, but men are also much more likely to be in a gang than a woman. And while that other guy from the gang you battle constantly is technically stranger, there is a relationship there. Wikipedia has a fascinating breakdown of the types of crimes women and men experience and their relative chances by gender “sex difference in crime”.

        1. Zillah*

          We’ve disagreed elsewhere in our comments to this post, but I agree with you here, and it’s kind of what I was trying to get at above (not in response to you, to someone else). Men are more likely to be victimized by strangers, but I’d really like to know where the violence actually happens, because I think that gang violence (or even things like fights at bars/sports events/whatever) probably contribute significantly to that.

          So on that level, I get the OP’s fear. It’s unnerving to go into an empty building with people close enough to you that they could theoretically force their way in, no matter who those people are. However, I also think that the fact that they’re homeless is contributing unnecessarily to her fear.

    2. Anie*


      I’m not afraid of the homeless people that constantly camp out in front of my office’s entrance, but it strongly bothers me when they’re there. It’s a never ending stream of urine and puke.

    3. Melissa*

      Just because people scare you, though, doesn’t mean that you have reason to be scared. Not that the LW’s concerns aren’t valid – it’s worrying to be around strangers, especially in the dark, alone, as a single female (you feel more vulnerable). Nobody was belittling her for feeling unsafe; several posters suggested that a lack of familiarity with homeless people might make her feel unsafe, but that’s not belittling.

      But the LW already said that not arriving early or leaving late is not an option for her, and I’m not certain how taking pictures of the people is going to help her. Those folks are there on a regular basis anyway, so it’s not like they have to find them. Even if she does make a stink about it…what is her company going to do?

      1. Wo & Shade, Importers.*

        I didn’t say that anyone was belittling her. What I said was that most of the people here on AAM were not being helpful telling her that she has no reason to be scared of homeless people.

        I believe I wrote “OP: you need to contact someone at your business and tell them about your situation. Call the distant home office if necessary. If you can safely take pictures of the people who are scaring you, do that and send them along.” What I meant is that she should take pictures of the people who are scaring her, and send them to her management along with her request for assistance. Because actual pictures would have more impact than just words.

        What can her company do? One idea: they could hire a security guard to be at the place of business when OP arrives and leaves. It might even save them money compared to – god forbid – she should be injured or worse by someone hanging out in front of the business.

        Honestly, I’m shocked at the lack of sensitivity that has been shown to OP with regard to this situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But “homeless” is not shorthand for threatening or dangerous. The OP didn’t say that anyone was threatening here or behaving in an intimidating way. She said they were homeless, period. And she said she was “terrified.”

          It doesn’t make sense to affirm someone’s terror (terror!) of any single demographic group, any more than it would be okay to affirm someone’s intense fear of all people of race X or all people of age Y.

  85. nep*

    Pretty amazing the discussion this question has provoked. Interesting and thought-provoking read, for the most part.

    On another note — a lot of talk about carrying pepper spray here. I carry it — when I run and when I’ve got to go to work at 4am or run errands late-ish. I’d be interested in hearing of occasions people have used it — how did it go? what were the circumstances? did having the pepper spray help you pluck yourself out of danger?

    1. Wo and Shade, Importers*

      I’ve never used pepper spray on a person, but I once had cause to use it on a rather nasty wasp’s nest. It was effective.

      The only advice I have is that you should do a practice / test shot first thing after you acquire the spray so that you understand how it deploys. For instance, I was expecting something like spray paint – instead, it was more like a squirt gun. But that’s just one data point – other pepper sprays may act differently. So: test.

  86. Student*

    As a former homeless person, all the nice and thoughtful comments made me tear up.

    OP – the homeless are, by and large, much more afraid of you than you are of them. No matter what you say, a cop will always take your word over the homeless person. You can have the homeless locked up merely for being an eyesore in your vicinity. The homeless person has virtually no recourse against you for false charges. The homeless person also can’t go to the cops if you decide to hurt, rob, or otherwise harm him, because the cop won’t take the word of a homeless over your word. If the homeless person hurts you, they have no where to go to try to hide or escape punishment. If they did, they’d already be there instead of at your business’s doorway.

    Most of the homeless people I knew from that time were most concerned with finding someplace safe to sleep, a decent source of food, and a bathroom on a daily basis. I know those were my top issues. Finding a place to shower can be very hard. It’s very hard to get a job when you can’t shower or clean your clothes regularly. Food is fairly widely available, or at least it was in the area I was in at the time. Some of the homeless are dealing with drug addictions – but frequently that really means tobacco and alcohol addictions, like many very ordinary people. Some are dealing with mental illness – again, like many very ordinary people. A lot of them really are down on their luck, otherwise mostly normal, and having a hard time getting a break to get back into normal society. I’ll always be grateful to the folks that gave me a chance at normality.

  87. LizB*

    I think many of the responses are focusing on how the OP can become less terrified of homeless people because really, there aren’t a ton of other practical things she herself can do. She’s called the police multiple times, and it hasn’t made people stop sleeping in her office doorway. There are a few other things she can ask for or try (installing a bright light, making sure she leaves at the same time as someone else so she’s not the first one in/last one out, holding on to her car alarm button)… but if those don’t make people go away, the other part of the solution is to try and reduce her fear about their presence. Anxiety and terror are not comfortable states to be in, and they’re not conducive to doing good work. Her company should do everything in its power to make her feel safe, but it can’t guarantee that people will never be sleeping in the doorway, and getting familiar with the people who are often there (in the daylight, accompanied by a coworker) might be another way to decrease her fear. I would also be uncomfortable stepping around or over someone on my way into work (I’m skittish around any strangers on the street when I’m alone, due to my own issues), but it would be somewhat less scary if I knew who the person was. There’s a big difference to me between the scariness of “random person under a pile of coats” and the scariness of “Bob, who’s here on Thursdays and who wears a Giants cap.” It’s not the only thing that can or should be done, but it’s something the OP can do herself that may help her peace of mind.

    1. Iro*

      I don’t think she should ever get to a state of “peace of mind” in this situation. I think she should always be on her toes. This is a dangerous situation. She is rousing strangers on the street or walking in the dark with a group of unknown men. Even if you get to know them in passing, it doesn’t change the fact that they will still be mostly unpredictable strangers. She should be on her guard like she would be anytime walking around in the dark outside.

      1. Zillah*

        Eh, I’m not sure I agree – especially if you’re right and they are the same people, it seems to me that while some caution is always warranted, if she interacts with them without frequently incident, she should turn the alarm button down a corresponding degree.

        1. Iro*

          I agree that if it’s the same person each day, you can dial the caution scale down, but I don’t think it should ever be at 0 which I interpretted as “peace of mind”.

          If I came home to find my spouse asleep in front of the door, I’d be cautious waking them up. Now I come home in the dark and there is someone sleeping in my doorway, and as I approach I notice it’s my spouse I’m going to be even more cautious waking them up because I’m thinking about how they can react defensively to a fearful situation (somone looming over you in the dark).

  88. nep*

    Recently I was chatting with a man who was homeless; he was looking for an affordable room to rent. He made a remark that really stopped me in my tracks. He said: ‘You know — just a place where I can shut a door.’

  89. Iro*

    I just want to take the time to thank AAM, Sarah, and the bevy of commenters on both sides of this letter.

    While I may strongly disagree with some of what has been said here I don’t think that makes the commenter a bad person and I certainly don’t think most commenters believe those of us saying “hey, be careful it is a dangerous situation” are bad people either.

    It’s nice to see that there are still open forums like this where we can have civil, if a bit heated at times, debates about real world topics that impact us all.

  90. Melissa*

    Add this one to the “more reasons why Alison is awesome” pot. Thanks for giving such a tempered and well-reasoned response to this.

  91. torreadorable*

    I think Alison’s response is really off the mark, however well-intentioned. It sort of sounds like advice given by someone who does not deal with a large and aggressive homeless population on the daily.

    I live in a big city with an enormous homeless population; my office is in a neighborhood known for attracting them and providing services. As I walk to work in the morning, I pass building after building after building with homeless people encamped – not just asleep – in their doorways (as well as panhandling on corners, or just walking around). And believe me, it’s not the same person in each doorway each morning. It’s not like passing the same crossing guard every day and exchanging a quick hello. So, point #3 is not helpful. This happens regardless – utterly, totally regardless – of the lighting in the doorway, or any other physical “improvements,” so point #4 is quite useless.

    Should I add that most of the homeless people I encounter are severely mentally ill? As is a large portion of the homeless population in general, since our nation has long since moved on from its responsibility to care for such people? I don’t encounter a down-on-her-luck prairie woman with two children in the doorway. It’s more than likely an unmedicated schizophrenic person. You are absolutely right that homelessness doesn’t make people violent, but many people in this population are dealing with a LOT of issues on top of their homelessness. So, point #1 is kind of off base. The only point I agree with is #2, because the police in this neighborhood won’t respond unless a homeless person has literally obtained a gun and is threatening people on the sidewalk.

    This situation can be so overwhelming that the idea of politely asking a single homeless person blocking your door if you can help him find a shelter is, frankly, humorous (as much as I hate to say it.) If I came to my door almost every morning and found a new person asleep in the way, surrounded by all of her stuff, I think I would be bothered by it too, and I wouldn’t know how to deal with it, especially if I wasn’t used to it, if I was physically small or not strong, and so on.

    I am aware of the problems faced by the homeless day in and day out, and I am totally sympathetic. But this is not an issue this letter writer can solve with good manners and generosity of spirit.

    1. Diane*

      Agree 100%. The homeless people that I’d often encounter outside my office in NYC were 1) Often mentally ill or drunk/drugged enough to appear that way leaving them unable to really act rationally or comprehend they were in someone’s way, also often in their own world 2) Would act aggressively and lunge at passersby or scream at people for no reason and basically not be able to have a coherent conversation.

      I’m all about treating people with kindness and compassion but the OP here wasn’t asking for help with getting more comfortable around homeless people — she needed practical advice for how to deal w/the situation.

      1. Laura the Librarian*

        I agree 100%, and I say that as a librarian who has had frequent encounters with homeless people. In the building where I currently work, there is a constant problem with people camping out in the front of the building, blocking the entrance, and urinating and defecating on the steps.
        Overall, I was really dismayed by the responses to this letter. I’ve been reading this blog for years, and have seen many letters where people wrote in asking advice because they were creeped out by a coworker, etc. In those cases, the advice and comments are always along the “trust your gut and do what you can to assure your safety” not “bring them coffee and become BFFs with them.”

        1. Baxterous*

          +1 I read “the Gift of Fear” based on reading about it here and the advice to the OP to ignore her fears didn’t seem right.

    2. Baxterous*

      I agree, I think it was off the mark. I was actually quite surprised at how the resolution to the problem was approached and it made me glad I wasn’t the OP, who was looking for practical advice for a very real concern. I haven’t had to deal with this myself, but my sister works in a section of her city with a lot of homeless people, who have a wide range of behavior which includes entirely benign and unthreatening, to annoying (aggressive panhandlers) to scary and violent (a disturbed man who punched her while she was walking on a street near her office during lunchtime).

  92. SBL*

    Another thought:

    Take a picture of the entrance to your building that includes the homeless people.
    This will help the “home office” have a visual. Also it will give them an idea what customers would see as well.

  93. FrankenStand*

    I am homeless and have nowhere to go and people fear me everyday because I’m a 200lb teady bear you need to be stricken with homelessness to feel how we feel

  94. F.E.*

    Oh ya, well one may think that the homeless are harmeless but that is not necessary the case. One pulled a knife on my husband. It’s not just that they “have nowhere to go”…the real problem that needs to be addressed in this society is the drugs as these homeless people are usually heroin addicts and guess what….don’t be so sure about their behaviour being predictable.
    Let’s address the real problem. And it’s not that young mother who is terrified that was just told she should change her attitude. She at least is speaking out and is aware enough to see that there is definitely something wrong and it needs to be handled.

  95. Captain Hammer*

    *reading off index cards*
    I hate the homeless
    *goes to next card*
    -ness problem that plagues our fair city

  96. Dan*

    The community, local, and Federal government isn’t working on this problem in a resolution manner for this business district. Best advice I would give her is to find another job. A lot of comments here don’t see the problem to this persons extent.

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