Cash for “Trees” vs. Cash for “Keys”

Week One:

EAW Roofing & Construction and crew came to tackle a tough issue:
Homelessness Commune Encampment in the woods of Worcester

Facing a difficult situation today. One of our landlords owns land for development which has become a favorite stomp for homeless people living in the woods. To add to the dilemma, the hotel across the parking lot from this property has been converted to a covid recovery center. I have been requested by the Board of Health to assist in the removal first of the people living in the woods, then the removal of all of the stuff they brought in their which is not part of the environment. My plan this morning is to offer the people $10 for each shopping cart filled with trash onto the pavement of the parking lot. Calling it “Cash for Trees”.

Looking for any experience from other property managers or situations you may have faced in cooperating with the homeless community. Our intent is to offer compassion and assistance. Not to take homeless people and – well, put them out out “another” street. 

Good to remember as we build our RE empires rolling out of a warm bed in our homes and trying to decide what is for breakfast as we stare into the fridge, in our kitchen, in our house – that homelessness is real. Another thought is to bring socks, underwear, food, and water. Not sure if this would offend anyone. Looking for thoughts and guidance.

Worcester Police Department discussing the impending move out from the homeless commune in the woods attended by Worcester Board of Health, Social Services, and Belaire Property Management LLC.

Week Two:

Today’s rendezvous in the woods “Cash for Trees” went better than expected. The team that went in was the Worcester Board of Health, Life Assistance Homelessness Reps, Worcester Police Department (carrying heat) and myself as the property manager representing the property owner. One week earlier the Board of Health and life Assistance posted notices on the site so they were expecting us today. No unnecessary surprises to folks already in a hard situation. 

We met with the temporary residents and they were more than happy to participate in a cleanup of the woods surrounding the hotel that has been making the calls to city hall Board of Health. Each participant will get $100 dollars Friday morning for helping to clean up the area. They can use it however the need to.

We took down the names of the people making their home in the commune in the woods and got their shoe sizes. On Friday morning we will be bringing new sneakers, socks, underwear, and t-shirts as well as the money we promised. We didn’t make it about trespassing or being homeless. We treated everyone with dignity and respect and just focused on the issue of cleaning up the environment for the benefit of all.

Hopefully, if all goes well as planned. I have a construction crew coming down Friday morning with a dump truck (possibly 3 to 4 loads) and a Bobcat tractor to widen the path to get the makeshift building structures and excessive shopping carts out of the area and off of the property. The residents are getting the assistance they need. If they do a great job, we are prepared to pay $300 to each person who helped clear the area. I unpacked the situation to the landlord as follows:

  • If we need to pay someone to do cleanup, why not pay the people who need the help the most?
  • We need to pay a cleanup crew anyways, let’s help those in need first
  • We treated the affected people with dignity and respect and just talked to them like normal people
  • No placing any blame, just focused on solutions and doing the best to help everyone involved
  • We are going to assist them further by providing essential needs (socks, underwear, sneakers, shirts)
  • We put our best foot forward with city official more than happy to see our creative solution to this hard situation
  • Good to have friends and build relationships with city hall for later situations that may arise
  • All good will goes to our landlord client for cooperation and providing a professional solution
  • This absolutely could have been a lot worse if we did not handle this properly
  • Now, when our name rolls across the desks at city hall, they know we are the “good guys”
  • The Board of Health and Police Department are going to be happy to work with us on any future issues

We will see how all of this rolls out in a few days on this coming Friday. Keep us and these affected in your prayers.

Week Three:

Friday went well. After meeting with the commune inhabitants, paying them each $100 a day for the work they did (they actually got a lot of stuff out of the woods), we walked the site with the contractor. It is going to be 4 to 5 dump truck loads of building debris and shopping carts. Estimated cost is about $3k to $4K. The job should be completed on Monday then we will need to post the no trespassing signs moving forward.

The commune will still be there over the weekend so we offered to pay them another $100 again on Monday for whatever else they can bring to the lawn near the parking lot.

They one thing that is super hard to deal with is that we know they are shooting up with needles. When one of the young men came out of the structure his arm was bleeding where he just shot up and there were signs of multiple needle marks in his sink. We have notified the contractors to be super careful entering the woods and especially tearing down the living structures.

I have no problem paying people for the work they do. I just hate seeing them do things with it to hurt themselves. With this much money headed their way I would hate to see it end up in an overdose or even worse. We have been doing property management a long time and learned long ago we cannot be responsible for other people’s poor choices and decisions. 

Sad truth. We can only try to do the best we can.

Cash For Trees:
Mission Accomplished (or so we thought).

The contractor cut a path into the woods to get the dump truck in and then took out about 5 truckloads of debris, furniture, building materials, skids – and a full truckload of nested shopping carts.

The contractor is going to be about $3K to $4K thousand dollars. We paid for people living in the woods $200 each for two days of work bagging trash and bringing it out of the woods. We spent about $150 on T-Shirts, socks, underwear, and sneakers for the people in the woods. Finally, we posted no trespassing signs throughout the property.
Project total I think is going to come in just under $5,000 dollars.

Called back to the site

Life Assistance Programs has been working with each person for housing, aid, food & shelter. We closed up the community yesterday without incident. Our contractor showed up with a box of Dunkin Donuts coffee for the encampment inhabitants the morning we showed up with the trucks. Ended up paying each person in the woods $200 each for helping get things out of the woods plus a little extra for T-Shirts, sneakers, socks, and underwear. All structures and debris have been removed from the premises. The property is now posted “No Trespassing” in three different locations and all documentation sent to Board of Health for full compliance with the ordinances.

My client is more than fair. They own a boatload of medical buildings and assisted living spaces that have been in the family for decades. I handle their residential and condo rental division which is sort of the red-haired child at the dinner table. This is my speciality, dealing with residential, and am happy to do it for them. Really nice people to work for. They do it right.

Friday – was another challenge for sure. I was called on Wednesday to revisit the site to walk through a few missing details that still needed to be attended to. I showed up in a truck, just in case. When I pulled up I was met by the Board of Health Inspector, Living assistance officials, and two Worcester Police men touting guns and handcuffs. They pointed out a barrel of trash (and other unmentionables) filled with water the crew did not take on one site (I understand why), an inflatable mattress on another site deeper in the woods, and some minor trash debris to be scooped up at the final site.

The inspector did throw a curveball we did not expect. The parcel is 13 acres RG5 Zoned and the inspector was suggesting that we fence in the area which could have an astronomical cost. I reasoned with him that if they wanted to get in, they were going to get in by either jumping the fence or even cutting through it. His counter suggestion was that I patrol the area daily in the woods kicking everyone out. Even if this was a feasible idea it would consume almost 15 hours per week. One hour each way then an hour in the woods reasoning with squatters to leave the area. The best I could offer was to patrol the area once a week. That was soon about to change.

So the police, the inspector, and social services, satisfied with my resolve to clean the area once again, said their goodbyes, thanked us once again, and rolled away in their separate vehicles. I set off to remove the last of the debris and get back to my busy Friday schedule. That barrel was more than just trash and water. I tipped it over and shovel by shovel bagged the contents in heavy duty trash bags soon to be in a dumpster.

I continued on my task going about my business filling the final bags of trash, putting them in the truck bed, and photographing the process for later verification should this case ever go to court. At the third site I was bagging up the last two bags when I heard a voice from behind me coming from the woods that asked “What are you doing?”.

I was taken by surprise and startled by a man standing behind me. He was another homeless person I had not met from last weeks clean up. He was new. Apparently we got one set of people out and new ones moved right back in. I asked if he was alone and he told me there were a few more people down in the woods. My adrenaline was pumping at this point realizing the predicament I had placed myself in. I told the man he needed to leave the property immediately. It was posted “No Trespassing” and that we would prosecute. When he told me there were more people living down there I knew I needed to get out of there ASAP. I remained calm, kept my composure, loaded the truck which I had backed into the woods (out of view from the street) and drove out to the parking lot and immediately then called the police from a locked truck.

I explained to the dispatch the events leading up to today and she agreed. I should not enter the woods alone unattended without police escort. I then called the Board of Health Inspector and told him the deal was off. My offer to patrol the woods once a week (unattended) was not going to happen. I told him what the dispatcher also said to not do this again alone. This was a job for the police to patrol the area. They have the authority of the law, the handcuffs, and the guns. They are paid by tax dollars to protect and serve. The property has been posted not to enter or we will prosecute.

I had the best of intentions going into this, but this made me realize quickly, if things had gone the other way, I might not be making it home to see my wife for dinner. That, was a game changer for me and has altered my perspective moving forward. I still would have done this the same way (except going in the woods alone). I would still have paid the homeless people for their help, bought the socks, underwear, sneakers, and T-Shirts, and treated them with dignity and respect. But there was a reason the Living Assistance folks and the Board of Health Inspector showed up with an armed police escort.

I am brave but I am not stupid.

I am not going to put myself in harms way by entering the woods alone again.

What’s on Your Mind?

Do you have any other ideas on this topic you could share to help our online community? Please chime in to share a comment or review. All feedback is welcomed. Thank you in advance for your continued support!

Warmest regards,

Brian Lucier
Belaire Property Management
Regional Property Manager
(978) 448-0669 office
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