He was sitting in the corner of Starbucks. He looked somewhat weather-worn, but an otherwise good looking young man in maybe his late thirties. I watched him minding his own business, with his backpacks around his table – everything he had to his name.He had a gentle smile and a dignity about him, occasionally jotting and or drawing in a little notebook he held in his hand.
In no time a Starbucks employee came over and began addressing him…it was clear he was being told to leave. What would you do? Would you think, “Yes, very good, serves him right, get these undesirables out of here!” ? Or would you think, “If he can’t be a paying customer, good riddance, this is a business!” ? Or maybe, “He probably just messed up the bathroom taking a homeless shower, I’m sick of these people!” ?
Would any of those thoughts have been the general way you would react? If so, let me ask you another question…Do you consider yourself a religious person? If so, I assume you probably like to refer to yourself as a “Christian”?
Aside from all the condemning, fraudulent writings full of man-made bigotry all throughout the Bible that I often like to expose for being nothing close to “holy”, let me remind you that if you claim to be a follower of “Jesus” and the teachings attributed to him in the Bible, then for you to have anything close to such thoughts when you see the homeless in your Starbucks doesn’t just make you a selfish douche-bag, it makes you a lying hypocrite where your religious beliefs are concerned.
How many times have you seen someone who was NOT homeless come into Starbucks and not order anything but water, while they took advantage of the calming atmosphere? I see it all the time.
How this situation played out for me was that I felt compelled to give some support to the homeless man. After the Starbucks employee walked away, you should have seen the look on the man’s face when I came over and said hello. He couldn’t believe I was being friendly and supportive to him. I asked him if he had been told to leave and he said yes.
I asked him if he would like a cup of coffee, to which he said he’d love one. When I went to the register and he followed behind, I told the clerk I wanted to buy the man a cup of coffee. Next thing I know I have the Starbucks manager telling me that “he shouldn’t be asking customers to buy him coffee!”
I spent the next 5 minutes telling her that she shouldn’t be jumping to such conclusions, and that it was only me and me alone who asked to buy HIM a cup. She began to make all kinds of excuses for why they remove the homeless from the stores when they are “rude or uncooperative”.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because none of what she was saying applied to this man’s demeanor. He was the exact opposite. Apparently before I came in, he had fallen asleep in his chair, and had to be awakened. But other than that, she admitted to me that he was not creating any problems, or dirtying up the bathrooms, or causing any issues whatsoever.
It wasn’t long before he strapped on all his bags, and took the cup of coffee with him as he departed. You could see him breathing deeply under the weight of about 3 packs he was carrying with all his belongings.
Is it so unreasonable that he be allowed a few minutes if he falls asleep sitting in a Starbucks? I mean, if you can fall asleep in Starbucks, given their extremely uncomfortable wooden chairs, the ‘meat freezer’ A/C temp, more power to you. The stress and strain on someone living on the street should not be lost on any of us when we see these tired neighbors of ours.
Recently I saw Richard Gere being interviewed by Charlie Rose about his new movie where he plays a homeless man in New York City. In the interview Gere said that as he successfully acted the part of a homeless man on the streets of New York, one of the biggest things he felt was the severe DISCONNECT as a person from the community.
He said he realized that generally everybody passing by automatically avoids any eye contact or greeting of any kind when they assume someone is homeless. He said everyone acted as though he wasn’t even there, and he described it as a feeling as though your life doesn’t matter anymore.
Gere went on in the interview to actually admit what many of us don’t want to admit to ourselves, let alone out loud to anyone else…that even he sometimes worries about how life circumstances could conceivably cause him to be homeless but for the grace of God, so to speak.
Though it is hard to imagine someone as well off and successful as Richard Gere having things turn on him to that extent, we have seen stars rise and fall like that many times, so it is not inconceivable. But it is a valid fear that a lot of people have who are middle class and working poor members of our society.
According to one homeless advocacy site I visited, many who are at the poverty level in America are one health issue, one accident or one job loss (if they have a job) from the possibility of being forced to live on the streets.
Do you understand that the homeless are your neighbors? Do you understand that they deserve better from us? Do you spend any time at all thinking about what more we as a community can do for them? Or, are you a homeowner who has the often heard “NIMBY” thoughts, NIMBY having become the popular acronym for “NOT IN MY BACKYARD!”
I bring this up because there is a solution, and it keeps getting shot down because local politicians don’t have the character and backbone to stand up to these NIMBY homeowners in their districts…people who again hypocritically claim to be Christians while they look with disdain on the prospect of supporting homeless by allowing a temporary outdoor “tent city” area anywhere with any proximity to their suburbs, etc.
The homeless don’t want to be confined to a building like the Red Cross shelters typically provide…they don’t want to have to be preached at in order to stay overnight or get a meal. If you talk to most homeless people, they will tell you that they value their independence, YET, they do desperately crave a since of community and belonging. This is one of their greatest needs. This should be no surprise, because to feel connected to others, and that our lives matter to some degree, is one of the greatest needs of all of us.
So this is at the root of why the concept of a “tent city”(for lack of better term, meaning an area of acreage permitting tents and camping) for the homeless is needed in every major city. They could be rotated so that they didn’t have to remain static in just one spot for more than 3 to 6 months.
For the model that I envision, imagine a kind of temporary “KOA” for the homeless…There could be 3 or 4 locations on land owned/maintained by the city, county or state, or it could be an area allowed by private landowners who desire to make a real difference in helping these unfortunate individuals who desperately need help in re-establishing their livelihoods, while at the same time wanting to maintain their independence and dignity as a member of a community.
A tent city affords that sense of community. A tent city could be designed to bring critical resources to the homeless that otherwise would be next to impossible to effectively deliver to the same degree. There would be critical community rules that would not tolerate alcohol or drug use, enforced by security tasked with protecting the citizens of the tent city. Those who pitched their tent there could feel much safer with a sense of belonging, and sense that the community at large cares about them enough to allow their presence in such an area.
Different charitable organizations could provide meals and barbecues on their own assigned days of the week, and job placement services could have a booth on site daily, with a private bus assigned to the tent city to accomplish needed daily transportation to various support and rehab services for those living there.
One recent statistic showed that the average homeless person, especially if they are homeless due to a mental health issue (one third of all homeless) is costing the American taxpayer roughly $40,000.00 per year. And without a common sense solution like a central “sub-community” tent city, most homeless are not effectively helped, and their numbers continue to rise.
Are you a Sacramento homeowner? I would like to hear your thoughts about this, especially if you are willing to stand up and say you would support such an approach within a reasonable distance from where you live.
Back to Starbucks…Managers of Starbucks need to receive special training on this issue. Homeless individuals who stop in need not be summarily asked to leave if they are not causing a disturbance, or if they doze off for a few minutes.
There needs to be a ‘case by case’ policy of temperance and understanding, within reason of course. I am not advocating that the tent community be in the outdoor seating area of Starbucks.
But Starbucks and some other huge community corporate enterprises could be a huge and effective helpful resource in such a tent community area initiative, and this would certainly be in their interest. Because at present, the only resources for the homeless appear to be emergency rooms, limited religious charities, JAIL, and Starbucks.
I was in that Starbucks for quite a while this occasion for business. I wondered where the young man had gone. Sure enough about a couple hours later, he came walking by on the sidewalk in front of the store again, loaded down, trudging along, and still managing to carry that coffee cup I bought him.
Next time you see a homeless person, go out of your way to at least make eye contact with a sincere smile to let them know they exist. If you hear one of your friends complaining about or denigrating the homeless in general, remind them that they are our disadvantaged neighbors.
The majority of the homeless are not panhandling drug users or alcoholics, or creating other problems…The majority of the homeless population are quietly living on the streets behind the scenes and you would never know…Many live out of their vehicles with children after losing their jobs, and/or losing their homes to foreclosure, etc.
And as I mentioned above, approximately one third of the homeless are dealing with mental health issues with hardly any effective resources available to them other than what we as a community ever decide to create for them.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the matter.
(Connie Bryan is an editorial writer in Sacramento, CA. See all of Connie’s opeds on her blog at www.conniebryan.com)