Small businesses in Hillcrest have banded together to hire private security officers to patrol the streets as the community deals with safety issues stemming from homelessness.
According to the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), homelessness is the No. 1 problem in the neighborhood, causing concern among business owners and patrons.
According to some businesses, some of the homeless who frequent the area have gotten aggressive in their panhandling, making customers and employees feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
Troy Merritt, who worked at the Rite-Aid on Robinson Avenue in Hillcrest, said a homeless man once asked him for change as he was leaving work. When he didn’t give him money, a woman got involved and the encounter turned violent.
“In the end, they tried to jump me,” he told NBC 7. “I’ll never forget it; cops came and everything.”
Benjamin Nicholls with the HBA said Merritt’s incident is an example of why the HBA signed a $75,000 annual contract with the security company, City Wide Protection Services.
“[The homeless] are panhandling aggressively and if you don’t give them money, they’re following you. They’re following you into stores,” said Nicholls. “The business community is pretty upset.”
Nicholls said the HBA agreed to cut community programs to afford this private security in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, the City of San Diego said it has been battling homelessness in the area and continues to do so.
In a statement to NBC 7, San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria wrote:
"Private security can help address issues like crime and trespassing on private property, but being homeless is not illegal. My office has dedicated funding for social services and outreach in Hillcrest over the last few years and will continue to invest in compassionate and proven efforts to address homelessness.”
Nicholls said small businesses need more street-level support. And, while the solution of hiring private security isn’t idea, he said the HBA feels, at this point, there is no other choice.
For now, two private security officers will patrol on foot from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. After 6 p.m., one car patrol will be in the area overnight, until 6 a.m.