BEVERLY HILLS—On Tuesday, June 16, the Beverly Hills City Council unanimously agreed to hire a private security company to combat the city’s homeless population. Block by Block, a private security and janitorial service based in Tennessee, was awarded the $499,576.78 contract for the one year pilot program officially titled the Ambassador Service Program. The program, which utilizes unarmed ‘security ambassadors,’ will focus on the business district of the city, with the ambassadors acting as extra eyes and ears on the streets.

This is the latest effort in the city’s attempts to curtail aggressive panhandling and other quality-of-life issues that concern its citizens. Residents and visitors have reported being frightened and intimidated by aggressive panhandlers and business owners frequently report that the panhandlers intimidate customers.

The primary goal of the program is to supplement existing law enforcement and social services with the presence of the professionally trained ambassadors.

According to a statement released by the City Council, homelessness in the area has increased 17 percent in the last year, which provoked the Beverly Hills Human Services Department to propose the hiring of the ambassador service that has proven to be a valuable resource in neighboring communities.

This number includes data from West LA, Santa Monica, Westwood, and Malibu and does not necessarily accurately reflect the number of homeless men and women living in Beverly Hills full time. A report released in March 2014 estimated that number between 30-35, but when Canyon News spoke to Beverly Hills Human Services Administrator and licensed clinical social worker Jim Latta, he said a more recent study found the number of full-time homeless residents in Beverly Hills to be 31.

According to the statement from the City Council, the ambassadors will also be able to serve as witness and victim in court proceedings where the visitors and residents who experience the aggressive panhandling “are unwilling to go through the process of filing a police report.” This would make it easier to arrest the homeless in the city and put them into a judicial and mental health system that Latta himself said was “overwhelmed and needed assistance.”

Latta spoke favorably of the program citing it’s proven ability in neighboring communities to connect homeless citizens with the resources they need.

The Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center estimates that over 82,000 people are chronically homeless in Los Angeles County on any given day with 20 percent of them being military veterans and 25 percent having some sort of mental illness.

The funding for this program comes from the City’s General Fund, Business Development account.