Homeless set up camp in Walmart parking lot, police say they can't do much about it

I’ve written a lot about homelessness on the west coast and the property crime that tends to go with it. This story from Garden Grove in Orange County is happening just about five miles from my house. Homeless people have set up a camp of sorts in the parking lot of a local Walmart. There are complaints about harassment of shoppers, break-ins and vandalism of parked cars, and shoplifting from the store itself. And yet, not much is happening to change it.

A nearby store has hired security guards to patrol the lot as well as maintenance people to clean up the trash left behind by the homeless but that doesn’t solve the crime or other problems. According to KCAL 9, the Walmart where this homeless camp is being set up has refused to ask people to leave and local police say there’s not much they can do.

“There’s just a lot of homeless, a lot, asking for money,” said one shopper who was there with a child. “I don’t come after it’s dark.”

And when area cops are called out to the scene, their hands are tied.

“Many times they sit there and say, ‘Can’t you just arrest them?” But it doesn’t work that way,” Brian Meers, a Garden Grove police officer assigned to the homelessness problem, said. “Most of the violations in the state are misdemeanor crimes now and they get out in six hours, and the reality of it is that they’re going to go right back to doing what they were doing before.”

This is exactly the same problem that is happening in places like Seattle and Portland. In February, a report commissioned by area business leaders revealed that the 100 most prolific homeless offenders in the area were responsible for 3,500 criminal cases. The homeless are stealing from stores like Walmart, sometimes using a shopping list of items provided to them by a ringleader. The vast majority of the time these thefts aren’t caught, but even when they are caught and police are called, the thieves are back on the street in a day or less. It eats up an enormous amount of police time but nothing really changes.

You might be thinking that the obvious solution here is to enforce the law and make people pay an actual price for theft, harassment, and vandalism but that’s not a very popular notion in a lot of liberal big cities. In fact, there’s a coalition of activists in Los Angeles working this week to reduce police impact on the homeless. From the LA Times:

Activists registered their outrage on Thursday over a new plan that would allow Los Angeles police to continue participating in cleanups of homeless encampments.

About 20 members of the Services Not Sweeps coalition gathered near the steps of City Hall to protest the plan, even though it includes many ideas that the group has supported…

Jane Nguyen, from Services Not Sweeps, said that cleanups occur during the day and that police officers undermine trust between the unhoused and all of the authorities present, including outreach workers. That’s because sweeps often lead to homeless people losing their possessions among other problems.

“We have to stop the adverse relationship between the city and the homeless population, and it starts with removing LAPD from encampments and cleanups,” Nguyen said.

Activists also are frustrated that the city’s plan still includes the use of the 311 hotline as a way for residents and business owners to complain about homeless encampments, prompting cleanups. City officials have said that, under the new plan, cleanups would be conducted on a predetermined schedule to ensure more predictable and consistent service, but 311 complaints would still be a factor in those decisions.

That’s the mindset you see a lot in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, etc. Instead of worrying about the victims of homeless crime, including businesses and residents, we’re supposed to worry about police taking the homeless people’s stuff. Also, activists don’t want to make it too easy for citizens to complain about the crime and nuisance created by the homeless camps lest something be done about it. The result of this attitude is situations like the one in Garden Grove where a problem grows but authorities seem unable to do much about it.

Jazz Shaw Jul 03, 2022 10:01 AM ET