How to Discourage Vagrancy at Your Hotel

Why Vagrancy Is An Expensive Problem for You

Safe and secure rank among the top guest expectations for your hotel. Guests are shelling out good money so they can conduct business or enjoy time away from home. They don’t want to be harangued by panhandlers, accosted by muggers, solicited by drug dealers, or burgled in their hotel rooms. Downtown Baltimore La Quinta General Manager, Hazelyn D’Arco, claims she has difficulty keeping employees because vagrants make them afraid for their safety. Your property’s reputation, and yes, even your employee turnover rate, are impacted by how well you handle vagrancy in and around your hotel.

You don’t want this to be your TripAdvisor review, “A Great Location Marred by Vagrancy.”

A May 2016 Cornell Hospitality Report titled, Hotel Performance Impact of Socially Engaging with Consumers, re-confirmed an earlier study that hotel revenue is directly associated with TripAdvisor ratings. Better ratings equal increased revenues. Receive a TripAdvisor review like the one above and you have an urgent, pervasive, and expensive problem. Don’t wait until you get the disparaging reviews. Act now!

What can you do to make your property safe and secure from vagrants?

1.    Discover How to Make Your Property Unfriendly to Vagrancy

2.    Engage Guests, Staff, and Your Neighbors to Discourage Vagrancy

3.    Get Actionable Information Immediately to Combat Vagrancy at Your Property

Make Your Property Unfriendly to Vagrancy

Use Defensive Architecture to Discourage Unwanted Loitering

1.    Install benches that discourage sleeping.

2.    Slope low walls, planters, and window sills.

3.    Make planters taller than 1.25 meters (4 feet).

4.    Install large, irregular-shaped rocks or objects at unintended resting locations.

5.    Use prickly vegetation like crown of thorns, cacti, and holly in planting beds.

6.    Secure the open area often found at the bottom of stairwells.

Mark Your Territory

Define your exterior borders to delineate civic and private spaces to discourage vagrancy. Hire security to enforce your borders if necessary. Use low walls, material and grade changes, gateways, planters, lamp poles, and unique sidewalk and road paving treatments. Keep your property and surrounding area graffiti and litter free to communicate vigilance.

Keep Your Eyes Wide Open

If staff and guests can see something, they can say something. Remove line-of-sight barriers and install security cameras where not possible to remove barriers. This often means installing more windows and removing or shortening interior walls. Remove large shrubs that conceal activity and raise tree canopies. “Having good, plentiful, bright exterior lighting is something we definitely look at and know the brighter an area the greater discouragement there is for what we would call bad activity,” says Adam Novotny, Area General Manager for Crowne Plaza and Radisson Downtown Baltimore.

Engage Guests, Staff, and Neighbors

Do Not Accidentally Encourage Vagrancy

1.    Discarded tobacco is attractive to vagrants. Provide sturdy, lockable cannister-style ashtrays in all smoking areas. Use signage to encourage compliance from smokers (“Help Combat Vagrancy: Put Cigarette Butts in Bin”). Educate them on how cleaning up their tobacco combats vagrancy.

2.    Trash of all kinds is attractive to vagrants. Secure dumpsters indoors. If this is not possible, trash container lids should be locked.

3.    Giving handouts directly to vagrants encourages more vagrancy behavior. Make donations of food, clothing, and money to food banks and homeless charities. Staff and guests should not offer food, clothing, or money, directly to vagrants. Post lobby and in-room marketing assets educating your efforts to combat vagrancy and your donation efforts with homeless charities.

Get Your Neighbors Onboard with Your Efforts

You are not an island and your guests don’t just stay on property. The best efforts will include all the business and residential neighbors within your business district. Show them what you are doing and encourage them to do the same. Often there are business and neighborhood organizations already working on the issue. Use them as a resource to educate yourself and your neighbors.

The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is making a difference.  According to their 2018 Annual Report, they employed Downtown Baltimore Guides who made 139,596 citizen interactions and a Clean Team who collected over 350 tons of trash to discourage vagrancy and bad actors.  At the same time, Downtown Partnership expanded its homeless outreach program and security patrols. Downtown crime has dropped 23%, due in part to Downtown Partnership’s efforts. This is a model any business improvement district can follow.

Be Compassionate

Staff, especially security staff, should be given compassionate engagement protocols when dealing with vagrants. Most of the time a vagrant’s behavior is not illegal, just unwelcome to your guests.

1.    Staff should keep a safe distance, never make physical contact, and be polite when requesting a vagrant to vacate the property. Novotny does not want his security staff to take a risk. “You’re not going to engage them, you’re not going to try to physically remove them, and you’re not going to touch them,” he says.

2.    Allow the vagrant to gather all their belongings, no matter what condition the items might be.

3.    Make contact information available for local homeless and drug addiction centers. Contacting the police does not have to be your only option.

4.    If the vagrant is non-compliant with your verbal request, you should contact the police.

What’s Next?

Precisely target your property vulnerabilities from the recommendations in this article. Reach out to local organizations and consultants who understand your particular needs. Implement the strategies that work best for your hotel.  Finally, get a good night’s rest knowing your vagrancy problem is being resolved.


Don Kermath is the Human Resources, Communications, and Connections expert that empowers hospitality leaders to transform their workforce into productive, cohesive, team-players who stay for the long haul and contribute to innovation and excellence on the job. After meeting with Don and exploring how you are currently trying to improve your organization, you may discover that his highly-customized programs make sense for you (and could really benefit your bottom line). Email Don at Don@DonKermath.com for your own How to Discourage Vagrancy Action Guide or visit www.DonKermath.com for more information.

Photo “Panhandler Sleeping Winnipeg” by Flickr user Dave Shaver used under Creative Commons license.

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