Is it worth the risk for a business to help the homeless?

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.

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About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in Homeless, Irish Investigations and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Is it worth the risk for a business to help the homeless?

  1. reocochran says:

    I wrote three essays or ‘character sketches’ of three homeless people I have gotten to know. I feel that the library goes beyond what I would expect, they have allowed one homeless man to use the sink to ‘bathe’ in and allow his dog to come inside instead of being chained to the bench outside. The dog is very well trained and the man, in this case seems ‘clean.’ I gave a ride to some young ‘skater boys’ recently, which it upset some of my readers of my blog. This turned out fine, the boys were respectful and not homeless. I have a story about a woman, who I drove up and down alleys with her, helping her to find her friend’s truck, she did cause me to be upset, since I had felt she ‘knew’ where I was taking her and it was after 9 pm. We leave our cans in plastic bags, hanging on our apartment dumpster, while the homeless can walk down to the metal purchasing place in town. I feel you are very kind to frequent these places where they serve and treat people kindly. I am hoping the young man with the dog, gets his ‘wish’ to find a ride to Florida. Last summer, he really wanted to leave Ohio’s cold climate and he ended up staying.

    Like

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Robin, and you raise an interesting point about libraries. They are often at the center of the discussion about the homeless, who gravitate toward them. I’m not sure how libraries deal with situations, but I hope they err in the direction of kindness (George Saunders quote). In some cases, I’m sure people are unruly or make patrons uncomfortable and have to be removed. There’s just no easy answer to this widespread problem. But if enough people and businesses lend a hand when they can, it helps just a little bit. I’ll check out your character sketches — on your blog?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I once lived in a small city in southern NJ whose library was a respite from the cold and wet weather for the homeless. Everyone kind of pretended that they were regular patrons over there in the corner snoring through a nap, and at least during my visits there with my children I never saw anything but peaceful patrons at the library.
        In a city in Arizona, the bathrooms to the library were in the entrance foyer, and the homeless would line up in the mornings to use them for daily hygiene. Kindness ruled there too.

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      • Jim McKeever says:

        JoHanna, I’m glad to hear that. I hope the bathroom users keep the facility in good shape so the good will can continue. My buddy James uses the county civic center almost daily for the same purpose, or just to get out of the elements. Most of the security people know him and allow him to do so (he’s harmless and quite sociable). Occasionally a new guard or officer will be there who doesn’t know him, and toss him out but that’s rare.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “There but for the grace of God go I” should ring loud and clear in our ears. You have engaged a very important issue.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. And just when I become disillusioned about humanity, someone like you tells a story like this, Jim, and my heart is full. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post. ❤
    Diana xo

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    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Diana … the people at the restaurant were so kind to this man, when they could just as easily have tossed him out. They’re definitely good-hearted folks, and they’re going to get more of my business.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. markbialczak says:

    Bravo to our businesses with heart, Jim. Thanks for lightening my spirit today.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent post and I too, would choose to frequent an establishment more frequently that demonstrated kindness to the homeless.

    I believe you did right by not promoting the names of the businesses. If they wish to advertise their role in assisting others they will.

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    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, JoHanna. When I was writing that, I recalled a story I was told in my youth. During the Great Depression, the destitute would go house-to-house asking for food or other help. When they found a generous homeowner, they would put a mark (chalk?) on the curb or sidewalk in front of the house so that they would remember to go back there if they needed more assistance. Supposedly it could also signal others who were destitute that a kind person lived there. I can’t see that happening these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I suppose some would say there is risk to businesses who show kindness, but I can’t think what it is. Being kind should not come with risk. Like you, I would frequent an establishment that displayed kindness and compassion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Colleen, there are several “difficult” folks, homeless or not, who are a definite problem for some businesses and patrons here. I’ve seen employees chase folks away, and in some cases they’re justified in doing so due to aggressive panhandling and even smoking inside the premises. Like everything else, this skews attitudes and can create a one-size-fits-all response, penalizing good or harmless people who just need some help surviving day to day. This particular incident yesterday was especially poignant, because the man’s hygiene was so awful it permeated the entire dining room — and this was during a birthday celebration for the owner! They handled it very well, and I’m going to make sure they realize their kindness didn’t go unnoticed.

      Like

      • I suppose we forget these difficult situations, though I shouldn’t. In my line of work I see it often. I work with and around amazing people who do amazing work. That doesn’t mean we don’t see these difficult situations. And even amazing people can’t make all difficult situations ‘easier’ for the world to be able to handle, or for the difficult people to be safe when they are not. I so appreciate the generosity and kindness and compassion of others. Though I feel I have kindness and compassion, I will admit that there is always that person I see who demonstrates ways to be ‘more so’ . And I learn more about myself and the way I can be. So yay for those owners, and for those like you who recognized their kindness.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. kathe32 says:

    Hope you don’t mind that I shared your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jim these kinds of stories give me hope. I lived in the inner city for much of my young life and did see a little of this kind of caring but not enough. I often felt bad when I encountered so many homeless people asking for money. I tried to buy the magazine from one homeless man each week. But in the end their were just so many. It saddens me when I return to the city and see the numbers have doubled. Keep posting and spreading these kinds of stories, maybe other places may follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. cat9984 says:

    It’s depressing to realize that it may not be a good idea to help a fellow human being because of societal norms and constraints. Kudos to these establishments for taking the chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim McKeever says:

      I can understand why a business owner would want to remove someone who is disruptive, and in this case I’m sure if the person caused trouble he would have been removed (politely) and told not to come back. But they gave him a chance and did the humane thing. No harm done, and certainly some goodwill was established.

      Liked by 1 person

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