An encounter in a restaurant today confirmed a pattern I’ve noticed in the treatment of my city’s homeless and destitute.
I’ve come across several local businesses — restaurants, mainly — that extend kindness, either with free food or coffee, a place to stash belongings, even a place to sleep.
Today, I was having lunch in a locally owned restaurant when a man shuffled in and said something to me that I couldn’t understand. It was hard to hear and I thought he was asking for bus money, a common con line. So I told him sorry, can’t help you.
As he walked past, the smell of stale urine on his clothes was unmistakeable. He went to the counter, asked for a cup of coffee or anything else they could spare — and was treated kindly and with respect. Coffee appeared in front of him. He sat at the counter and didn’t bother anyone as he drank it. A few minutes later, he left.
It clicked. Here was yet another example I’ve witnessed of businesses helping the homeless. (How do I know this man was homeless? I don’t. But he was in rough shape).
* One chain sandwich shop in Syracuse allows my friend James to sit in a booth for hours to get out of sub-zero temperatures. He’ll buy a sandwich and play video games on his Gameboy while his clothes dry out.
* Two chain restaurants near the Syracuse University campus feed homeless regulars, sometimes in exchange for odd jobs; one restaurant allows a man to store his belongings behind the counter.
* A Syracuse factory allows a man to sleep outdoors behind its property; some employees supply him with food and clothing.
Over the years, I’ve heard of other establishments that extend similar kindness.
As much as I want to promote and applaud these businesses, I hesitate to identify them. Maybe the employees are doing this on their own, and the owner wouldn’t appreciate it. (Today, however, the restaurant owner was right there and didn’t miss a beat in helping a fellow human being.)
When I witness these gestures, I thank the employees and usually buy something. I will go back to the restaurant that helped the man today, and do the same.
I’ll also try to spend more of my money there, and talk up their good deeds. They’re taking a chance, but I like to think the benefits outweigh the risks.