Risk Management and Homelessness

My company is moving to a new HQ in Seattle’s downtown core. Crime rates are higher as is the concentration of homelessness (not that either is nonexistent just 1.7 miles north) . This is a risk in terms of employee safety, but another risk is employees being skittish about being in an urban environment–because of pearl clutching, which could affect employee retention or adoption of the changes. You can’t do a lot to mitigate genuine safety risks when people are outside of the building–because they are a) rare, b) random/unlucky, c) in the open air.

Nonetheless, we’ve taken security risks seriously and planned for a security officer to be available to escort individuals to their offsite parking garages, increased building security, and selected valet garages with fewer access points, decreasing the likelihood of intruders or car prowlers. We are also implementing a buddy system so people can coordinate walking to bus stops, garages, etc. with people they know.

BUT what we haven’t done is account for perceived threats: AKA homeless people. A large chunk of my coworkers don’t like homeless people and don’t want to be around them. This is because they incorrectly believe their safety is threatened by the existence of homeless people. It’s a weird risk. It’s an extremely common risk.We risk a mutiny as soon as the safety police start sharing articles about crime rates in the neighborhood on our community message boards.

How do you get your employees to treat their homeless neighbors as people? After all, we’re moving into their neighborhood. They were there first. Aren’t homeless people only a “problem” when we treat them poorly? Isn’t that why they are homeless in the first place?

Mitigation: have a volunteer day. Wear our company t-shirts. Introduce ourselves. Hand out food or clothes or toiletries or bus passes. Do something for our neighbors. Then they’ll be people to us, and we’ll be people to them, and those safety alarmists won’t get nearly the amount of traction they would otherwise.

Sometimes the best way to mitigate a risk is to act like a human being. Also, safety and security trainings just make people never want to leave their homes. Anything could happen and has happened, and there is no realistic way to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

I haven’t seen my boss’s risk log on this project, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that at no point did he think that our employees might be a risk to our homeless neighbors.