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Increasing drug activity and homelessness plague east-side businesses

Businesses near Tanque Verde and Pima describe open-air drug use, vandalism
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Posted at 8:56 AM, Jun 13, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — An alarming rise in incidents involving drugs and homelessness is causing significant problems for businesses on Tucson’s east side, near Pima Street and Tanque Verde Road.

According to CrimeGrade.org’s interactive crime map, the area has higher levels of vandalism and property crime than surrounding neighborhoods.

This is the same area where, just last week, a group of five men were arrested for pointing guns at passersby. The guns were later found to possess illegal automatic triggers.

Dr. Jeff Vendsel, who has run Advanced Chiropractic in the area for ten years, describes a disturbing shift over the past few months.

“Somewhere September, October, we started getting a large number of homeless people that have been making our buildings, buildings both the north and the south of us, their home base,” Vendsel said.

Vendsel added that conditions have worsened since the smoke shop moved in.

He recounted frequent issues with people sleeping on his property and engaging in drug activities nearby, with Vendsel taking photos and videos of various incidents occurring over the past months.

The increased crime and vagrancy have started affecting his business.

“I’ve had a few people inform me that they just don’t feel safe being here,” Vendsel said. “And I can’t say that I blame them.”

Vendsel describes an ebb and flow of people, sometimes numbering two, sometimes twelve, congregating at the bus stop near the intersection.

At a nearby plaza, Integrity Treatment Solutions has experienced similar problems in recent years. Co-owner David Krepp described having security cameras stolen twice and their company van repeatedly vandalized.

“The latest thing that’s happened to the van, it’s been shot,” Krepp said. “So there’s a bullet hole in the passenger side.”

Krepp says that the incidents mostly occur during the night, while the daytime is relatively quiet.

In response to the rising issues, the building’s owner hired a security company to patrol the area at night.

Krepp noted some improvement. “Because of our patrol, I think, they’ve kind of pushed out of our building area and gone right next door.”

Vendsel confirmed that the security detail now also patrols his office’s parking lot.

“It’s definitely helped,” he said. “But it’s not taking care of the problem.”

Both business owners expressed compassion for the homeless population and acknowledge that homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness are intractable problems impacting many of the areas of the city.

They both describe experiences where they’ve provided help to homeless individuals, such as letting them use their phone or handing out water.

However, they emphasized the need for solutions from the city, county and state in order to run their businesses.

“As an individual, you can only do so much,” Vendsel said. “And as an individual, you can only take so much.”

Krepp echoed this sentiment.

“I respect and support the police department,” he said. “I just kind of hope maybe they can maybe put more focus on this area.”

A spokesperson for the Tucson Police Department (TPD) reported receiving four calls in the past 90 days—one from the UPS Store and three from Big O Tires—related to these issues.

According to Dr. Vendsel, three patrol cars were posted in the parking lot of the plaza on the morning of Wednesday, June 12.

The City of Tucson provides a list of resources for those who are or know someone facing homelessness.

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Joel Foster is a multimedia journalist at KGUN 9 who previously worked as an English teacher in both Boston and the Tucson area. Joel has experience working with web, print and video in the tech, finance, nonprofit and the public sectors. In his off-time, you might catch Joel taking part in Tucson's local comedy scene. Share your story ideas with Joel at joel.foster@kgun9.com, or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram or X.