Even the most compassionate business owners can sometimes find themselves frustrated by their interactions with homeless people.
Sleeping under overhangs and in doorways after business hours is one thing, but when homeless people begin driving away your customers during business hours or creating unsanitary conditions by using your building as a bathroom, you may need to take action.
Here are three possible solutions to common conflicts between homeless people and business owners:
Causing trouble inside your business. If you are having persistent problems with homeless people inside your business, harassing customers or loitering, you generally have the right to ask them leave. Business owners can typically refuse service to anyone they want. Just be careful not to discriminate based on race, sex, religion, physical appearance, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or other prohibited attribute may expose you to a discrimination lawsuit. Avoid enforcing a "no homeless" policy; invoke your right to refuse service to customers on a case-by-case basis.
Loitering/panhandling outside your business. You may worry that homeless people lingering outside of your property or harassing customers for money will affect your business. If homeless people are on public property, you may have little direct recourse other than asking them nicely to leave or to stop harassing customers. Some cities have begun passing ordinances to address these issues. Known as sit/lie ordinances, these laws regulate prolonged sitting or lying on city sidewalks and public areas. In other cities, ordinances that directly forbid "aggressive panhandling" have been passed. If there is a sit/lie ordinance or panhandling ordinance on the books in your city, you may request that it be enforced.
Need legal advice on how your small business should operate? Consult with an experienced business attorney about your options.
Public urination/defecation. One major headache for business owners in areas with large homeless populations is the human waste that often litters the sidewalks, doorways, and parking lots. You can choose to provide your business's bathroom for use by homeless people during business hours, but what can you do after hours? Unfortunately your best option may be to contact police and inform them of problem areas, particularly if those areas are obscured from street view. Public urination and defecation are illegal in most states, and even if police don't catch the perpetrators in the act, the extra scrutiny may provide motivation to take their "business" elsewhere.
Often, problems with homeless people are most readily solved by addressing each person directly. But if that approach fails, don't be afraid to put your legal rights to use.