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Valley security company trains on humane approaches to handle the homeless

Posted at 10:45 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-26 01:45:55-04

With the number of homeless people on Valley streets increasing and local police agencies strapped for resources, private security companies hired by businesses are having to step up and deal with what can sometimes be challenging, emotional and even dangerous encounters.

In Tempe, Windom Security has now taken on the job of directing many of the homeless people they encounter to resources like shelters and other agencies where they can get some help.

Windom Security Services is hired by private companies to patrol and monitor their properties. Dylan Vicha, CEO of the company said right now, one of the biggest issues they deal with is trying to keep the homeless off the properties they patrol.

"In general, what prompted this was just trying to find a way to help law enforcement out," said Vicha.

Many of the encounters Windom security guards handle would be considered low-level calls for local police. However, when things get tense and they deal with those who may be upset and are threatening violence, guards are advised to call the police for backup.

Windom Security Services released body camera footage involving several encounters they have had with the homeless to ABC15 to showcase a day on the job.

Vicha said the majority of the encounters were peaceful.

One showed a guard approaching a woman pushing a shopping cart. The guard asked her if she needed help finding a place to go. The woman said yes. The guard offered her addresses and phone numbers to shelters that were close by, so she could at least get a place of food, or a change of clothes if she wanted to head there for help.

However, there were times when things did not go well.

"You know, sometimes, people will try to get aggressive. They'll come up and try to fight and we just always try to de-escalate," said Jonathan Rodriguez, a Windom Security guard who patrolled businesses near downtown Tempe.

The company is training guards in de-escalation techniques, or how to calm things down in highly charged encounters.

"Unfortunately, there has been quite a few incidents where the homeless person is armed and they are, they have a knife, they have a machete. We have had Samurai sword attacks even in downtown Tempe," said Vicha.

Body camera video showed a man charging at a security guard with a branch. Tempe police had to be called to help handle the situation.

Windom security guards do not carry any weapons, other than pepper spray and a baton. With the training required, they use "words" as the weapon of choice while handling tough situations.

Training also required they always offer help to the homeless they encountered. Over time guards got to know some of the homeless camping out in the area, so that made communicating with them easier.

ABC15 followed Windom security guard Colin Pope around as he approached a group of men camping out on one of the properties that he patrolled.

"I recognize the one in the orange shirt. I've dealt with him a couple of times. He's usually non-aggressive. He's usually pretty chill. You tell him 'Hey, man you're not supposed to be here.' He'll leave immediately," said Pope.

Dealing with the homeless every day has changed how some of these guards viewed the homeless as well.

"It's helped me see that; you know they're people just like us, and they just need some help. We try to guide them in the right direction," said Rodriguez.

Guards are now carrying "resource cards" they can start handing out to the homeless. These cards include the names and numbers of many nonprofit agencies that can help them get back on their feet. They also include the toll-free hotline numbers for suicide prevention, veterans in crisis, domestic violence shelters and career centers.

Rodriguez said he did not know if it would make a difference in the lives of the people he encountered.

Advocates for the homeless say sometimes, a friendly face, some encouragement, and a helping hand can make all the difference in lifting someone's spirits and eventually inspiring them to want to turn around the situation they are facing, and trying to get off the streets.