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Al and Dawn, Homeless at Starbucks

A l Szekely and Dawn Henderson, an unlikely pair, are regulars at the tables in front of the Tenleytown Starbucks. Dawn gets the coffee. Al provides the stories. Together, they haven't yet solved the world's problems, but they're working on it.

Or at least they were, until the Starbucks managers told Al he was no longer welcome at their establishment.

Al's a homeless man with wild, matted white hair, a long, scraggly beard, and a hand-lettered sign alerting us to the fact that some creep stole his electric wheelchair, which is why Al is stuck in a manual chair, trundling along and aggravating the pain in his hips.

Dawn is a part-time comedian who works as a sales manager in Rockville. She spends an inordinate share of her life at Starbucks. "My record is eight hours, at the Glover Park store," she said. She's a regular at five Starbucks, including shops near home, the office and various other markers in her daily travels. Dawn collects people, a couple of whom happen to be homeless.

So when she heard a Starbucks assistant manager and manager tell Al he had to leave the premises and would not be allowed back because the store didn't want homeless people hanging around, Dawn was incensed.

"As much money as I spend with this company, they're not going to kick you out," Dawn told Al. She told the managers that if they were going to send Al away, they needed to toss her out, too, because she'd been sitting there longer than Al.

The situation got worse: Another homeless person, a woman who regularly spends hours at a time in the shop, was asked to leave and never return, Dawn said.

Al complied with the stay-away request -- "I'm not going to tempt fate, and I don't need a fight," he says -- and so he gave a friend his mug to take into the Starbucks, buy his coffee and bring it out to him while he waited up the block. But the Starbucks workers recognized Al's cup and refused to fill it.

Dawn decided to escalate. She had the perfect tool. Dawn is one of those folks who chronicles her every move on her blog. "Anything you need to know about me, it's on my blog," she said.

So Dawn posted an item detailing what she'd seen and heard. The store managers quickly started to feel the heat -- from customers who knew that several homeless people hang out at the coffee place on Wisconsin Avenue NW without causing any trouble, and from Mandrake Sumners, an outreach worker for the Friendship Place service center for the homeless, a couple of blocks from the Starbucks.

By last week, Starbucks was in damage-control mode. Dawn got calls from Seattle headquarters and from a regional manager, assuring her that the Tenleytown managers had erred and asking her to remove her blog posting.

Starbucks would not allow the two store managers to talk with me. The coffee chain's regional marketing manager, Carter Bentzel, said the company has no problem with homeless people as customers. "If the customers were told not to come back, we apologize for that," she said. "The store manager recognizes that there was a miscommunication."

Bentzel said there is no limit on how long any customers may stay once they've made a purchase. To make amends, the Tenleytown store plans to increase its food and beverage donations to Friendship Place and other groups that help the homeless.

But Dawn and Al remain perturbed. Dawn was outraged by the presumption that the Starbucks staff could discern who is homeless. "You have three people in there right now who are homeless and you don't know it," she told a manager. "And if you catch me on a bad Saturday, I'm going to look homeless. Are you throwing me out?"

Al, meanwhile, doesn't feel comfortable entering the store. He'll sit outside and drink coffee if someone is buying, but he'd rather not go where he's not wanted.

If you can get past the untamed, filthy look, Al will break every stereotype you've ever had about homeless people. He audits classes at Georgetown Law. He's big on texting messages. He has a blog. He writes poetry. "I really don't understand the prejudice against homeless people," he said.

Al, who is 60, and Dawn, 36, first met at the D.C. Armory back when it was being used as a collection point for donations to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Al was there to donate $14 he'd panhandled on the streets of Washington. "They needed it more than I did," he said.

Like public libraries, Starbucks can be a magnet for people who have nowhere else to go. Like librarians, Starbucks managers struggle to find legal and moral ways to distinguish between those who are just hanging out and those who are disturbing others.

In this case, the managers went too far. They jumped on a loyal customer whom they woefully underestimated.

So now they're sorry. But here's the part I can't get over: Both Dawn and Al, for all their outrage, are fully committed to spending their time and money at Starbucks. Even the protest action Dawn came up with adds to the company's bottom line: "Every morning, my goal is to pick up at least two homeless people and bring them to Starbucks, give them money and tell them to 'Go get yourself some coffee.' "

"I like the product," Al said. "If I can't go in, here I am, outside, buying $6 or $8 of it, one coffee after another. I just don't understand why they want to worsen my situation when I've already lost everything I own, except my pride."

By Marc Fisher |  December 2, 2007; 8:59 AM ET
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Al, you seem like a nice guy. But I'll tell you why homeless people aren't welcome. You smell bad and look bad. People are paying a premium to try to relax, but have to look at something that is unpleasant. That's why.

Posted by: Dave | December 2, 2007 10:17 AM

I'm not real sure that what the homeless need most is ridiculously overpriced coffee.

We are only hearing one side of the story here.

The truth is that many homeless people use Starbucks, libraries, and other public spaces to defecate, masturbate, yell at people or inanimate objects, demand money from people, etc?

Why is it incumbent on a particular Starbucks to babysit this guy all day, at the very real risk of driving away actual paying customers? How about he get a job like the rest of us have to? No, instead Marc and others insist on his 'right' to make life more difficult for those that actually go to work. Instead of hanging out in coffee shops all day.

Yes, there are some very nice homeless folks out there. And the mental health care system in the US is definitely not working. But the fact remains that quite a few that are mean, violent, or mentally unstable. I completely understand when a merchant decides that they will cater to actual paying customers that won't scream at other customers, that won't defecate or urinate under the table, etc.

Posted by: Hillman | December 2, 2007 10:21 AM

Marc - Since you seem to think this is ok how would you feel about sitting in one of those chairs at Starbucks right after some homeless guy whose clothes are probably covered with urine and feces has sat there. Or what about the homeless men who look at porn all day on the Internet at the public library. While we're at it, why don't you invite these people to hang out in your house.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 2, 2007 11:17 AM


How much actual experience with homelessness have you had?

Two of my own brothers have been homeless. And they stayed homeless for years, in large part because of people like you enabling them to do so.

How about instead of worrying that the homeless can't get overpriced coffee and all day lounging in Starbucks, how about you get out there and lobby for real homeless issue reform, so we stop enabling people to live on the streets, slowly destroying themselves, forever?

And, truth be told, most coffee shops wouldn't really be thrilled with you either. Staying 8 hours in a coffee shop, monopolizing what I'm sure is the best table in the shop (if you are anything like the other 'all-dayers' we usually see at coffee shops)? Even if you ordered a cup of coffee every 30 minutes, which is unlikely, you are still probably costing the establishment a lot of money, particularly in the peak service hours.

Dawn, baby, if you feel this is such a travesty, how about you spend a few hundred thousand and open your own business? Then you can decide who to serve and who not to serve. Until then, how about not trying to make that decision for others?

And I can't help but notice you live in Glover Park. One of the wealthiest parts of DC. Not exactly a haven for the homeless. If you really have a soft spot for the homeless, how about living in a part of DC where the homeless actually congregate en masse, and you can see close up, every day and night, how a policy of enabling them to live on the street forever is actually killing them? Or how about providing a few of them free range living in your home? Much like you are demanding that Starbucks do?

How we handle (and often enable) the homeless is a very real issue in DC. Your hysteria about the homeless not being able to get a $6 cup of coffee and hang out all day in Starbucks ain't helping.

Posted by: Hillman | December 2, 2007 11:19 AM

I know Al. He worked as a mechanic and a car fell on him and he is now unable to work, loss the job.

If you read the article you see that he audits classes at Georgetown Law, he writes poetry, he helped Katrina Victims with the little bit of money he got from panhandling.

He is waiting on his SSDI check which takes a ridiculously long time.

You actually want to know why people experiencing homelessness use libraries--to read, to stay warm, to work on their resume, look for housing, gain computer skills, keep in contact with family via email etc....the library is the defacto day shelter in DC because the Downtown DAY CENTER was CLOSED in January because a church sold the air rights at 9th and G, NW for condos to be center was were 400 men and women would go for meals, clothing, showers, case management and other services such as computer and life skills....but now its gone and since then you have seen an influx in the libraries and other places because where is a homeless person supposed to go if they are not working (which the ones that aren't are mostly youth, elderly or disabled) 44% of people that are homeless have a job (a lot do day labor work and are building the city, but can't afford to live in it). What makes people on here all high and mighty thinking they are better than a homeless person? That person is someones son, daughter, parent, friend--41% of the homeless population are FAMILIES and 1/3rd are five causes of homelessness are the lack of affordable housing, lack of health care (which did not cover Al's injury), domestic violence (about half of all women on the streets flee domestic violence), poor paying jobs ($24.73 an hour one needs to make in DC to afford a two bedroom apt at fair market rent!) and then mental illness (DC has higher percentage than national average which is anywhere from 16-25%).
Instead of sterotyping a homeless person, how about acknowledging them, saying hello, talking with them like Dawn and I do every day. You will meet incredible people, who for a variety of reasons ended up on the streets....or would you want to see another 1500 homeless people die (last year around 40 homeless people died on the streets)....come out on December 21st at McPherson Square at 5:00pm to attend an event that happens in over 100 cities and over 35 states every year...National Homeless Persons Memorial Day Vigil...candlelight vigil and moment of silence/prayer to remember those who have died on the streets that year...with testimonials, music, poetry by people who have experienced homelessness....AL, I hope to see you their!
And one last thing...FRIENDSHIP PLACE IS AN AMAZING ORGANIZATION that does great work, helping men and women get off the some of my friends George, Terry, Eric and David!

Posted by: mike | December 2, 2007 11:47 AM


You can spare us the sanctimonous 'you all think you are better than the homeless' BS.

Honestly, your post is not really painting an accurage picture of homelessness in DC.

By your own stats, only 40% of the homeless has a job. That means more than half don't.

And why do homeless individuals need a 2 BR apartment? And 'at market rate' is a bit of BS too. You are assuming they need to live in expensive neighborhoods, which they don't.

And what about the 'burbs? Why is it that the homeless are somehow 'entitled' to live in the very expensive core center city?

Suggesting that those of us that disagree with pandering to a street lifestyle would rather seem them die is stunning BS, and you should be embarrassed to even make such a statement.

But, then, that's why guys like me are sick to death of guys like you. It's your stunning arrogance and your holier-than-thou crap that completely turns us off to your cause. Especially when you just start making crap up, like that you need to make over $50,000 a year to afford housing in the DC area. Just not true.

Oh, and the fact that you are actually harming the homeless by justifying and enabling their street living, rather than insisting that it stop.

Posted by: Hillman | December 2, 2007 12:52 PM

I agree with the Starbucks management: Throw the bums out! Starbucks is supposed to be rather upscale and people do not want to have their overpriced coffee experience spoiled by the sight, noise, behavior and smell of vagrants. Starbucks is not a bus station and shouldn't smell like one. Where I work downtown, there are several Starbucks around. One at 16th and K ALWAYS has one or two nasty, scary looking homeless people in it. That's the one I do not patronize. Yes, we all feel sorry for the homeless (well, most of them), but we should not be required to give up our good customer experience to accomodate their ill mannered and sometimes threatening behavior. Dawn--you need to open your own coffe shop/homeless shelter so you can walk a mile in the shoes of business owners who have to deal with this problem everyday. I think you might get a different perspective when your paying customers start patronizing other establishments because they don't want to be bothered by a bunch of smelly bums.

Posted by: C-dog | December 2, 2007 1:46 PM

Yes, Marc, why don't you invite the homeless people to stay at your place when they're in need of shelter? Then they won't have to hang out at Starbucks 8 hours a day. And they would surely love your hi-speed internet connection to do blog postings.

No? Why not?

Posted by: Kay | December 2, 2007 1:51 PM

Mike: I started to read your post but then I remembered I read it all before from numerous bleeding hearts. But all that aside, please give me or Marc your address so we can get the City to survey the location and your surrounding neighborhood as a site for a new homeless shelter with you as the prime booster. DC needs to find some more space for additional beds. And if you live in the burbs, I am sure the county/city governments will help set up a shelter. (But then again maybe you're also homeless?)

Posted by: You Go Mike!! | December 2, 2007 1:59 PM

At the risk of joining the Jerk Brigade (depressing how quickly they come out of the woodwork for a story like this), I have to say that Starbucks coffee wouldn't be my first priority if I were homeless. But then, I've never understood the appeal of sitting around in Starbucks in the first place.

Posted by: csdiego | December 2, 2007 2:34 PM

Starbucks is a good company offers good products; management s/be able to maintain their policies/rules for its customers. True homeless have respect and would avoid creating problem for Starbucks or any other retail establishment, ie McDonalds, etc.

Posted by: Ted Knorr | December 2, 2007 3:32 PM

With homelessness, as with a lot of things, I always think "there but for the grace of God go I."

And still, I don't think Starbucks is obliged to become a homeless shelter. Neither is the library. Or the Metro. Or the parks.

As a society we need BOTH to take care of the homeless (without unduly enabling them) and to have safe and pleasant public places that can be used for their intended purposes without becoming homeless encampments. We can, and should, do it.

But a park, or a restaurant, or a library that also tries to be a homeless shelter will end up succeeding at neither.

It isn't Starbucks' job. It's ours.

Posted by: Meridian | December 2, 2007 3:33 PM

check out the reports/stats

National Low Income Housing Coalition "out of reach" report which gives the average someone would have to make working 40 hours a week to afford a 2bdr apartment at fair market rent (not more than 30% of income on housing)

National Coalition for the Homeless click on resources and then fact sheets/reports

National Alliance to End Homelessness

National Law center on Homeless and Poverty

National Health Care for the Homeless Council

For you to say that I am arrogant is totally inaccurate. I CARE about people who are experiencing homelessness, work with them EVERY DAY to help them in anyway I can in providing any resources I can. I am also an advocate who works with communities across the country in changing the misconceptions and stereotypes people have about homelessness.
I am happy that a shelter IS moving about 5 blocks from where I currently rent a basement apartment.
We CAN end homelessness through a program called "Housing First" do you know it costs more to maintain a large homeless population in shelters than it would cost to put them in an apartment with wrap around services/case management. once someone is in housing t hen they can take the steps necessary to deal with the circumstances that caused them to become homeless.

Thats right, 44% work and the other 56% are either children, disabled or elderly and yes some choose not to work--but they are usually those with a mental illness or addiction. DC does have a higher percentage.

What about the 41% nationally and 40-50% of the homeless population in DC that are families? Many whose parent(s) ARE working.

Homeless people often go to cities cause usually thats where there are more services, transportation and shelter. Though more is needed in the suburbs.

I am not enabling homelessness, WE as a society are by not implementing policy and societal change in dealing with poverty, affordable housing (HOUSING it, it works and saves TAXPAYERS at least $10,000-15,000 per person), health care, domestic violence, poor paying jobs, mental illness and substance abuse.

I have had a friend die on the streets and he was almost off the streets (after waiting YEARS for ssdi), also have a friend who served our country (like 400,000 other veterans and 1500 from IRAQ war) who is STILL waiting for help from VA!

I am not holier than though at all....get your facts straight

Posted by: mike | December 2, 2007 3:34 PM

Excellent post!

Posted by: Meridian's Right | December 2, 2007 4:05 PM

I thought it might be useful to give the perspective of someone who has experienced homelessness in Washington, DC. When I was on the street from the age of 29-32 while struggling with schizophrenia, I didn't spend much time at Starbucks. I never panhandled, so I couldn't afford the coffee, but I do think that I could supply some information regarding some of your comments.

Hillman: I agree that we should insist that homelessness stop. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to say it than to make it happen. The policies in the District and elsewhere have focused for the last 25 years on keeping people alive rather than helping them to get off the street. We are actually paying more to maintain a large homeless population than it would cost to provide housing for those who need supports and job training and placement for those who just need to earn a decent living. Check out Pathways To Housing. They have made great progress in New York toward getting people with mental illness and substance abuse problems off the street at a significant savings to the city.

C-Dog: Most homeless men and women who frequent Starbucks are in fact paying customers. My friend Chris used to go there for coffee and to pay for internet access so that he could maintain his computer repair business. One day he was told that he was no longer welcome in the establishment. His only crime was being a regular customer and having a somewhat unkempt beard that stood him out as homeless.

Kay: I know Mike and he does in fact open his door to the homeless. He has a friend who stays at his place at least three nights a week (his friend works at a restaurant and needs a place to wash up and do laundry). Never assume.

Dave: No one likes to look at the homeless. They remind us of the fact that we have disposed of large segments the poor (the elderly, the disabled, war veterans, the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence etc...). That's why it's important to keep looking. Out of sight, out of mind. Then the problem never gets solved.

Meridian: I couldn't agree more about libraries being utilized as homeless shelters. I met with Patricia Handy, who is the Outreach Coordinator for DHS, and she said that the city used MLK library as a depot for the buses that take people to outlying shelters because it has bathrooms and because the homeless can be inside all day. Unfortunately, the libraries are not funded or equipped to be day shelters. If the District would re-open a Downtown Service Center or keep shelters open during the day this problem would be solved. You should send a letter to the mayor insisting that as long as the city is going to utilize libraries as day shelters they should be funded to provide services rather than making libraries a dumping ground/bus station.

Posted by: David Pirtle | December 2, 2007 4:19 PM


Why does the shelter have to be downtown DC, on the most expensive real estate in the area? Why can't it be in the burbs, where your money would go far further?

You make some very valid points, especially about taking people off the streets permanently. No, it's not easy. But for decades now we've been enabling people to live on the streets, then getting all upset when residents understandably get tired of living in a city that seems under siege from those that live in parks and in our front yards. And from those that seem to make it their life mission to make us feel bad about finally having had enough of the crapping in our front yards and feeling harassed every time we go in a public park.

You are correct in that the solution is to get them off the streets. But with free government handouts (like apartments) come responsibilities. If they are unable to assume basic responsibilities for their own health and welfare, then they need to be removed against their will. Assuming the facilities provided are decent (and in DC this would of course have to be monitored closely), then this is actually far more humane than letting them rot on the street.

Mike: When you make the smart-ass comment that those of us that disagree with you would rather see the homeless die in the street, then, yes, you are arrogant. And annoying. And holier-than-thou.

And you never really addressed the issue here - whether private businesses like Starbucks have a moral obligation to become de facto homeless centers.

As for the reasons homeless congregate in urban centers.... it's because people like you enable it, with your programs to feed them in the park, your patronizing put-downs of those that don't agree with you, etc.

Actual job growth in the DC area, for jobs that most homeless could get, have been in the burbs for years. But, then, if your homeless population up and moved to the burbs then you wouldn't have a righteous political cause to put the rest of us down with, would you?

Posted by: Hillman | December 2, 2007 5:00 PM

Your mettle having been successfully tested, Marc, are you up a real challenge? How about a health insurance company, a finance company, an absentee slumlord....

Posted by: jhbyer | December 2, 2007 5:36 PM

Hillman: A few quick replies. The reason the Service Center needs to be downtown is that's where the homeless are. You could try to round them up and export them to the suburbs, but the people in the suburbs would probably not look any more kindly on the homeless than city dwellers.

I wouldn't want to make people feel bad about wanting cleaner parks or better libraries. I want the same thing. I don't think it is humane to have people living, eating, sleeping in public spaces rather than homes. We certainly agree on that.

The great thing about these housing first initiatives is their success rate. In New York City the largest organization is called Common Ground, and they have an eviction rating of less than 1.5%. Moving people off the streets after many years takes a lot of monitoring, life skills training, and counseling (I know I needed help). But it can be done.

I know this last point was aimed at Mike, but I wanted to put in my two cents. I don't think Starbucks or any other restaurant should be obligated to facilitate loiterers, be they homeless, teenagers, or whatever. As someone who ran restaurants for 13 years I had to deal with a lot of people who thought the restaurant was a clubhouse rather than a business. My beef is with paying customers being turned away for no other reason than being homeless (Like my friend Chris). In the story, Al couldn't even have a friend go in to purchase coffee for him by proxy. That is worse than ludicrous. It's bad business.

Posted by: David Pirtle | December 2, 2007 5:45 PM

Why all the publcity, good and bad, for Starbucks? Why would someone who collects money from good-hearted strangers use somuch of it for overpriced coffee, as others have stated? Instead of making himself the crusading reporter, Fisher could have found a neighborhood coffee shop that would be more amenable to the subject of the article and given them some positive publicity rather than just trashing Starbucks (which is used to bad publicity and rolls right along)? Let's see Fisher invite the guy to his house for breakfast each morning. Starbucks? Bah! Like people paying big money for bottled tap water. Marketing.

Posted by: Steve | December 2, 2007 5:46 PM

Thanks, Mike and Hillman, for turning this into an actual rational conversation.

I just wanted to address a few points:

It's unclear to me how exactly people who make the "Why don't they just get a job" argument expect a homeless person to just walk in somewhere and get a job. I personally am astonished that 44% of DC's homeless are employed. Starbucks won't even let this guy sit at one of their tables - and you expect them to let him serve coffee? What job would you recommend for someone who doesn't have a regular place to sleep or shower? Ever tried filling out a job application without an address?

Mental illness is a significant predictor of homelessness, and it also shouldn't go unmentioned that as of 1999, 23% of our homeless were veterans (, and that number is surely higher today, since homeless veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are already showing up in shelters across the country. The vast majority of DC's homeless are not homeless because they are lazy or irresponsible or because they really love panhandling. Most of them would benefit greatly from the programs that have been mentioned: day centers, case management, housing, job skills training.

Instead of sneering at our homeless population, we should dedicate ourselves to creating a means for our homeless population to rise up and find a place in society.

Posted by: Stef | December 2, 2007 5:59 PM

To David Pirtle: I was addressing my post to Marc (Fisher, the blog author), not Mike.

Posted by: Kay | December 2, 2007 6:16 PM

People who go to starbucks are losers, much like most of the morons posting here about homelessness and how they need to "get a job" and "make it in life" when they themselves were born into, if not affluent, comfortable surroundings. None of you, I'm willing to bet based on your piss poor writing ability, are exceptional enough to overcome an event like Al's, and the only reason you aren't homeless is because you do really well in flocks.

Posted by: Stone | December 2, 2007 6:58 PM

Stone: Exactly how do you know that were all born into affluence or comfort? I was born into abject Appalachian poverty, so perhaps I've seen a bit more of poverty than you simplistically assume.

Posted by: hillman | December 2, 2007 8:13 PM

Stef: I'm not sneering at the homeless. Far from it.
Dave: Homeless populations go where they are given fee housing, food, free run of parks, etc.. Have you never wondered why we never win the War on Homeless? Could it perhaps be because we are fighting it incorrectly. Decades of allowing people to livexon the street hasnt made homelessness go away.... Rather, its made the problem even worse.

Posted by: hillman | December 2, 2007 8:23 PM

WOW, so much hate.

Posted by: ami | December 2, 2007 8:42 PM

Id like to see Starbucks have a time limit for ALL it customers. I avoid the place because I can never find a seat, what with all the daycampers and their laptops!

Posted by: Dottieb | December 2, 2007 10:38 PM

Hillman: We haven't won the war against homelessness because we are spending money on warehouse shelters and incarceration rather than housing. I'm sure Al doesn't want to live on the street. But Al is 60 years old and disabled. I doubt he's going to successfully reenter the job market. The main reason that people become chronically homeless is that every barrier to getting off the street becomes an excuse to stop trying. If you remove the barriers, you remove the excuses. I'm not asking for the community to spend more money on housing. We already provide it, by way of the shelter system. But the shelter system doesn't end anyone's homelessness. Housing is cheaper and more ethical. If we provided it, then there would be no need to allow people to live in parks.

Posted by: David Pirtle | December 2, 2007 11:34 PM

Let's just open a big homeless shelter way out in the boonies where land is cheap. Let them live out there, do some organic farming, pay the rent, and kick the Starbucks habit all at once.

Posted by: JoeDoe | December 3, 2007 12:13 AM

So coffee in the brown sleeve has replaced the 40 in the brown bag? It's better than spending your money on liquor I suppose, but fighting for the right for homeless to buy overpriced coffee seems a bit backwards to me. I'm a student and would love to be able to afford Starbucks every day. But alas, I must settle for instant coffee.

In any case, as a private business, Starbucks has the right to tell customers to leave. Obviously, though, it should have handled the situation better, and it's really strange that they let Al buy his coffee there for so long with no problem. If they let him come and stay only twice before telling him to leave, that'd be one thing. But here it appears that Al had come and stayed for several months, and so it is unfair that Starbucks told him to randomly leave one day.

So Starbucks was wrong and Al is right. But like I said, fighting for your right to buy overpriced coffee seems backwards. Besides, if you really want good coffee, don't go to Starbucks. Caribou Coffee and most local coffee shops serve much better java.

Posted by: Nathan | December 3, 2007 12:15 AM


I think you and I are in basic agreement here.

My basic point is that we are throwing money at the homelessness problem but we're doing it all wrong. We need to be providing real mental health services (both voluntary and involuntary when needed), we need to provide real health care, real child care, and help with affordable housing for the disabled instead of decades of free housing for those that won't work.

I may be a bit harsher in my rhetoric, but I think we agree a lot here.

I don't know this particular guy's situation, but I see quite a few people that are able to work. And, no, I'm sorry - but being an alcoholic is no excuse for not holding a job. Or at least trying.

Holding a job in American society doesn't mean hard physical labor. There are all kinds of computer jobs and other sorts of labor that all but the fairly seriously handicapped can do.

But where you and I may differ is on our perceptions of the desire to work. I'll never forget the conversation I had with a work site foreman here on the Hill. They were putting up those ugly office buildings near Union Station, on Mass Ave NE. Right next door was a homeless feeding shelter. The foreman told he me repeatedly went to the shelter at feeding time and tried to recruit workers, even totally unskilled ones. He said they laughed at him, saying that construction work was beneath them.

I've talked to a lot of people in the construction and janitorial trades in DC, and they routinely tell me the same thing - they try to hire the homeless, and are constantly rebuffed.

Until homeless advocates admit what the rest of us know - that there are a good many homeless that simply will not work even when able - then their entire movement is subject to question.

And until public housing advocates admit that there are a great many in public housing that simply refuse to work, then we will have a failed public housing program. Which is sad, since all that money sunk into providing free housing for those that won't work could be put toward comprehensive treatment and facilities for the mentally ill and addicted.

What guys like me get tired of is being labelled as heartless and mean when we suggest that our approach is wrong. That's what I personally am sick up. The BS like the 'obviously you'd rather see the homeless die on the street' BS that I encounter any time I question the homeless advocacy lobby. And, yes, there is a public housing and homeless advocacy lobby, whose vested interest is not in making homelessness go away. It's in establishing some sort of misguided 'homeless rights' to live in parks, to demand that they be able to essentially live in Starbucks, etc.

There's an awful lot of hypocrisy out there, when homeless advocates demand a huge homeless shelter on the most expensive land in town, when they could instead build ten times as many shelters, with actual comprehensive facilities, if they'd allow the city to sell that stunningly expensive downtown land and use that money to actually provide resources elsewhere. But, no, keeping the homeless 'visible' is more important to these folks.

Anyway, I rant. But it's because I saw this same idiotic argument used to enable my own two brothers to live on the streets for years, while their physical and mental health deteriorated. But they sure as heck got their free ham sandwiches from suburbanites, provided in the very park where they then shot up drugs most of the night. And they sure as heck got the benefit of holier-than-thou homeless advocates making sure their panhandling was successful. Or, at least successful enough to enable them to spend that much more time in an open air drug atmosphere that the streets provides.

I'm glad to see you involved in these issues. But please understand the point of view of guys like me

Posted by: Hillman | December 3, 2007 7:33 AM

Ami: Care to elaborate on your 'so much hate' comment? Please be specific if you are going to accuse people of hatred.

Posted by: Hillman | December 3, 2007 7:34 AM

I go to the Tenley Starbucks, and the homeless people Hillman describes do not exist there. Whit the exception of Al, they are well kempt, and don't panhandle.

I have spoken to Dawn on many occasions, and the fight she had with Starbucks was not to open Starbucks as a shelter. She simply did not like the fact Al purchased coffee and sat reading like she had been doing before he arrived and he was told to leave. that was wrong.

The fact the managers used words like "homeless people are not welcome here" is also wrong. The homeless at Tenley blend in. How could they tell, aside from Al, how were they going to enforce that rule? They were going to make decisions based on someones appearance to allow them to purchase coffee and or sit.

Posted by: Marie | December 3, 2007 7:51 AM

Three thoughts:

1. To all of you that feel that your perfect lives would be damaged if you had to smell, hear or even see someone that didn't look as perfect as you, shame on you.

2. Starbucks coffee costs $6? Geez...

3. There, but for the grace of God, go I. Think about it...

Posted by: jj | December 3, 2007 8:30 AM

Oh yeah - to Mike, Hillman, Dave and Stef - thanks for your very thoughtful commentary. You show that regardless of whether you are for or against the current efforts to help the homeless, you can at least look at the problem with compassion. The rest of us could learn much from you.

Posted by: jj | December 3, 2007 8:35 AM

Do something about it then. The best you can offer is have Marc or Dawn take a homeless person home. What about everyone else? Treat people with respect.

Whats next Starbucks in their judgmental views on people will stop serving blacks who look like thugs because they don't want gangs hanging out there?

give me a break!

Posted by: Blake | December 3, 2007 9:52 AM


Ah, the comparison to racism. That was only a matter of time.

Totally unfounded and quite the logistical stretch, of course. But, then, it raises emotions, so it's fair game?

I support Starbucks right to deny service to anyone that is threatening, regardless of their race, economic situation, etc.

Posted by: Hillman | December 3, 2007 9:58 AM

Compassion is great; however, if a customer (ANY customer) is behaving in a way that can negatively inconvenience the business, the business can ask them to move along. If a homeless person is occupying one of the sidewalk tables for several hours, and that person is unkempt/dirty/scary-looking, that's going to discourage folks from coming in. I work for a commercial real estate company -- these are the facts. The Starbucks is NOT in business to help the homeless; they're there to sell coffee. If a bunch of teenagers occupies a table for hours, and starts making a ton of noise and acting intimidating -- move along.

Posted by: TMU | December 3, 2007 11:15 AM

they based an entire "type of living situation" as to who couldn't come into the store. I think this is why Blake brought up race. it's the same thing.

Al had been there for all of 5 minutes when they told him to leave, Dawn was there 10. it wasn't fair. That was her point.

For the record, the kids from Wilson cause more havoc and take up more space than the homeless at that location. in fact the Wilson kids are the reason there are only 2 tables left out front. They destroy all the others.

one kid buys a single drink and a flock of kids hang out and smoke and yell. its quite offensive. that needs to be cleaned up before any well kempt homeless person is asked to leave.

School starts at 8:30 there should be no kids allowed at Starbucks between then and 3 when school lets out. Even then, they need to be watched. The Wilson kids are loud annoying and I would avoid going in because of them. Not because of the keep to yourself homeless people at Tenley.

Posted by: Marie | December 3, 2007 5:03 PM

I'm gonna give you a little advice. Scrape 'em off. You wanna save somebody? Save yourself.

Posted by: SA | December 3, 2007 6:59 PM

"they based an entire "type of living situation" as to who couldn't come into the store. I think this is why Blake brought up race. it's the same thing."

No, it really isn't.

But you are openly advocating ageism. Banning ALL kids during certain hours. Quite discriminatory, ain't it?

But would you break your ban for a homeless kid?

Minor point: All Starbucks in the city are nonsmoking indoors. So if they are allowing anyone, including kids, to smoke indoors they are breaking the law.

Posted by: Hillman | December 3, 2007 7:41 PM

Calling street people "homeless" implies that their problem is a lack of housing.

Posted by: Stick | December 4, 2007 7:23 AM

Wow. I am stunned by the amount of time folks have dedicated to this discussion, and for what? Has anyone's opinion changed?

Truth is, starbucks has a right to refuse service based on attire, just like a McDonalds or Roberto Donna restaurant.

If you have strong feelings about the homeless in public spaces, help solve the problem: don't call them bums and ask why don't live in the suburbs.

Posted by: MesAmi | December 5, 2007 1:54 PM

Homeless people buying 6 dollar coffee??!?!? WTF?!?!?!?

Posted by: Ed Baby | December 5, 2007 4:56 PM

As a 19-year-old girl, I've been scared to death by homeless men at Starbucks a few times. Most recently, I was waiting for my drink at a pretty empty, and a homeless man started muttering to himself. Trying to be polite, I didn't conspicuously move away or run out screaming, but as his voice escalated I realized he was saying some pretty offensive me. This went on until the barrista heard him and told him he needed to leave. Luckily the guy just said a little more to the barrista and left without incident.

Marc, I don't think you've ever been catcalled by a homeless man at Starbucks, much less had one say frightening things within arms' reach. My point is, it's a tough call to make, but smart to send some homeless people away. It's similar (plainly not the same) to allowing children under eighteen in your store only when accompanied by adults: a few sketchy people who belong to a group of diverse people, many of whom are completely unsketchy, have made 'discrimination' necessary. The employees determined that keeping teenage girls from being verbally assaulted, or just generally SCARED was preponderant to being scrupulously fair.

By the way, Al & Marc: we crazy youngsters nowadays "send text messages", we don't "text messages". A "text message" is truly more a unique type of message than a unique way of sending a regular old message.

Posted by: lotte | December 5, 2007 6:31 PM

Having been on the streets and lived life as a homeless veteran, I am appalled and saddened by what I read here. I have experienced first hand discrimination of this type against myself and I am not a stinky, defacating on myself type. The homeless basically have no where to go as shelters are overfull, there is a lack of state or federal assistance, municipalities pass ordinances against the homeless, society shuns them and the list goes on. The sad thing here is that AL is also classified as a Homeless Veteran. That those that are condeming him on this site have probably never worn a uniform for this nation. It is also sad that some Latte Makers in their own version of a uniform can pick or choose (to discriminate) who they serve. After reading some of these posts on here, a few of you should have been cut off as your caffeine levels are way too high. Some Latte Maker should say "Sorry we cannot serve you either". Discrimination in anyform is discrimination. We have laws in this nation that everyone is equal under the eyes of the law to include everyone under the sun now it seems. That includes the homeless if some of you like it or not. Starbucks has also kicked out what some of you would call average citizens accidentally, because they thought they were homeless. I hope it happens to some of you here that think discrimination is fine in this world. For those of you that think homeless are just bums, you know very little as it can also happen in your life as well.

Posted by: Wanderingvet | December 7, 2007 3:58 AM

Funny I was reading this article and researching the D.C. and National Hate Crime Laws, It looks like Al and Dawn have a real case against Starbucks. It looks like Al was discriminated against by class and possibly handicap and that falls under the Hate Crime Definition. This article is about Homelessness but also has greater depth as far as the law of the land goes. Personally I know there are some problems with a lot of the homeless people out there. In reading about this gentleman though I do not see him as a rabble rouser and deserving of the treatment he recieved from the managers at that Starbucks. I believe in reading this article that the managers were reacting to a class or caste of people and that is a crime in this country.

Posted by: JkthornIII | December 7, 2007 7:04 AM

Do you really think people are homeless because we 'enable' them with sixty cents on the street or a cup of coffee? You honestly believe people choose to live without healthcare, a bed, protection from the elements, and societal respect for STARBUCKS?

Posted by: Chris | December 8, 2007 10:13 AM

It seems there are "resident hobos" at many Starbucks. Even in the Upper East Side here in NYC (supposedly the wealthiest neighborhood in the city), we have a couple who certainly "look" (but not smell) homeless who would park their shopping carts full of the their belongings outside and spend all day in the Starbucks.

Then again, compared to those annoying crying babies and those noisy middle school brats who come in and eat their lunch without buying any Starbucks merchandise, this "homeless" couple don't really bother anybody. I noticed they moved their "base" to another Starbucks 3 blocks away. I wonder whether there was another self-righteous manager...

Posted by: NewYorker | December 11, 2007 1:04 PM

I wonder if the people who are so concerned with how homeless people affect their coffee are just afraid that they're only a few life disasters away from being in the gutter themselves. Most busy people in the city don't have time to worry so much about what homeless people are or aren't doing in coffee shops. Besides, you never know what people are like until you get to know them.

Let me relate a story to you. Last year, I was on vacation traveling through the Pacific Northwest. To save some money and get a more interesting experience I stayed in a hostel and traveled by train (beautiful way to travel there). While waiting for the train at the King Street station in downtown Seattle (to go back to Portland where I was staying with friends) I went to a coffee shop to get some lunch. I had my day bags, had a clean t-shirt and baseball cap, jeans and sneakers on. A cop rolls in and asks me to "move along". I explain that I'm on vacation, just having lunch and waiting for the train. I finish my lunch, head to the station and he comes back to badger me about "staying away from the businesses". I whip out my business card, show him I'm an IT manager who makes at least 2-3 times what he does and tell him to get a job!

Posted by: Mikey O | December 12, 2007 10:35 AM

Do you want to sit in a "cloth" chair right after a bum sat there in urine soaked pants leaving a stench behind?

Send the bums to McDonalds...

Oh, wait .. they kick then out there!

Posted by: Bummer | January 3, 2008 3:46 PM

I don't live in DC, I live in Canada (Toronto). We have homelessness in our downtown core that is very sad indeed. The decision about 20 years ago, by our government, to give the mentally ill the right to refuse medication and the decision to close an inordinate number of hospital beds, has contributed greatly to the increase in homelessness here. Then, young people from small towns and other provinces come to Toronto's downtown core because they are now aware that they can survive by panhandling & getting meals from soup kitchens, etc. Then, there are some people who are just very disadvantaged and can't make the changes needed in their lives without assistance. Having said that, I do believe that all large cities are enabling homelessness by allowing panhandlers & by providing endless handouts through church and community groups WITHOUT ALSO PROVIDING A LASTING SOLUTION. It's like someone flew over the outlying towns and rural areas and put up a banner that said, if you want to "get by" without working, come to Toronto (or any large city). Here, I am not including the unemployable--but there is a disproportionate number of young people who are homeless and quite happy not to work--as a matter of fact, they end up as drug addicts AFTER they arrive here, so are we helping or harming?

I know that the issue here is one of whether Starbucks was right or wrong for barring Al in particular from their premises. It has morphed into a much larger issue. My thought is that the cities & their police agencies need to stop making it so easy for the homeless to set up in the first place. The lobbying needs to be for stricter laws for the mentally ill to be required to be on their meds; for the youngsters out on the street to enter into rehab programs if needed (and if not needed--for them to get a job or be in school); for the elderly to be properly cared for (either by forcing their family members to pay & house them or, if not applicable, by the government footing the bill.

Posted by: k sam | January 12, 2008 8:01 PM

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