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How One Retail Property Manager Effectively Addressed The Homelessness Issue

Homelessness is rising in many parts of the country, which is putting a strain on retail properties. Coreland Cos senior real estate manager Tracy Thomas tells us how property managers are balancing the needs and safety of customers and tenants with the human dignity homeless people deserve.


Tracy (left, during last year's Bike the Coast road race from Oceanside to Encinitas, CA) manages 2M SF of shopping centers throughout Los Angeles County, which saw a 20% increase in homelessness in 2015.

“It doesn’t matter the size, type or location of the center,” she says. “The reason homelessness is prevalent among shopping centers is because they provide the environment homeless people are looking for: food, money and a place to sleep.” Shopping centers are also usually privately owned, which makes them easier to hang out in than at a frequently monitored city beach or park.

One of the biggest problems is the availability of restrooms—many retail centers now lock them and you need either a key or door code to enter, Tracy says. As a result, many homeless people will relieve themselves in the back areas, by tenant doors. Also, some homeless people park themselves in front of grocery stores to panhandle and get visibly angry when shoppers don’t offer them money. 


There are two sides to the issue, Tracy notes—a property manager has the responsibility to protect the customers, retailers and property, but also needs to recognize the human element of the situation.

“We want to make sure that the homeless people are handled with dignity, but how do you balance that human interest while taking care of your facility?” she asks. Calling police or security doesn't help, as the homeless just come back after officers have left. Police departments are often stretched as well, so non-emergency calls from retail centers are last on their lists.

However, Coreland has found success in connecting with outreach programs, such as PATH, which offers resources and rehabilitation programs for the homeless.


Tracy once managed a shopping center in Westchester, CA, which had a large homeless presence due to its proximity to Venice Beach and the heavily policed airport. PATH would meet with the homeless to gauge where they were in homelessness and see if it would be able to bring them into a rehabilitation program that helps with food, shelter and job placement. The nonprofit was supported with donations from the shopping center owners, and by the time Tracy left the property five years later, there was a considerable drop in the homeless population at the center.

Coreland also made use of a similar outreach program through California’s Inglewood Police Department, the town in which Tracy manages the Crenshaw Imperial Shopping Center, above.

One challenge, however, is the retailers, Tracy says—they are more in touch with the human element of the situation and feel bad for the people staying at shopping centers, often giving them food or money. And when food or money is made available, the homeless population grows.

“We have to educate the retailers and help them understand that there are resources available to guide the homeless into more advantageous situations,” she notes. And when these resources are made available to homeless people, they often don’t return to the shopping center. “We can’t battle this ourselves,” she says. “It takes a community to resolve the homelessness issue.”