Posted on by Barista Life

A Cup of Consciousness

This article was submitted by Melissa Jackson, a barista at Starbucks.  She's currently majoring in English at Arizona State University, so she knows how to write! Check her out on her Instagram! If you would like to become a guest writer for our blog, click here to fill out the short sign up form! Then submit your article to baristalifeofficial@gmail.com and it will be featured shortly thereafter!

Where do you draw the line between generosity and foolishness? This is a question I ask myself on a daily basis during my shift. Whether we lend a helping hand or blindly let someone slip through the cracks is a moral dilemma faced by many, and unfortunately most don’t get to witness what damage these charitable acts end up eventually causing. This is my experience with humility, and understanding when it’s sometimes good to just let go. 

During my three years working in a busy downtown location, I have been witness to many walks of life. I have helped to brighten someone’s day, while having my spirit constantly uplifted, watched love blossom as blind dates sat down for coffee, chatted with the locals as they stopped in for their morning paper and donut and have been an unfortunate witness to the local economies decline and the casualties it has left behind.

With the increase in homelessness matching the steady rise in housing costs, our downtown location has proudly been a shelter in the storm. Accepting anyone from all walks of life, and allowing them a place to warm up with sometimes a free coffee to help speed up the process, we felt we were doing our part in contributing much-needed compassion in the community. Unfortunately the contentment or “warm fuzzies” we were feeling wouldn’t last long, and we had begun to see that our acts of kindness were starting to be met with increasing hostility and aggression. What started as a kind gesture on our part was now being questioned and ridiculed, and as we started asking ourselves how to best approach these ever-changing situations, we realized that our growing problem had turned into much more.

After continuously enduring threats to our safety and well-being, we started to realize that the majority of homeless individuals seeking refuge in our store had a significantly diminished mental capacity. Leading us to call the authorities on a frequent basis, we decided to take a step back and view this problem from a different perspective, while learning how to consciously say no.

  • No, you may not sit in our lobby without making a purchase
  • Restrooms are for customers only
  • No, we do not have any free samples of coffee to give you
  • You may have a water, but you may not fill the cup up with sugar first
  • Please stop begging our customers for change, this is making them uncomfortable
  • Please stop smoking at our tables….see those big no smoking stickers attached?

The list goes on and on…

While this sounds pretty heartless, keep in mind this has been an ongoing problem, which has been steadily getting worse. While initially trying to help, I realized we were only making the situation that much more complicated, and unbeknownst to us, this was compounding their feelings of discrimination, and hostility. Constantly giving handouts and allowing this behavior to continue had led to a sense of entitlement and expectancy with a few of our homeless patrons, and when we started challenging their demands we were suddenly considered the enemy.

Turning a blind eye to these human beings is in no way my answer to the problems that are being faced, yet when we continue to cater to the select few that hang out in front of our coffee shops, we are showing them that it’s ok to be a nuisance, that it’s perfectly fine to throw a fit and threaten violence if they don’t get their way, and that their piles of garbage are ok even if they are impeding foot traffic into our establishments. We have let it go on for so long, it has become a struggle to take back our control as fear has slowly crowded out our sense of well-being.

Witnessing our control in taking back our business, many paying customers still refuse to see the truth and negatively react to us as thinking we are all heartless. These same customers will stop in daily from anywhere from two to five minutes, yet don’t see what goes on the rest of the 14 hours our store is open. 

From witnessing drug deals to stabbings, and near overdoses to theft, these people that are thought of as “down on their luck” by our regulars will continue to be offered our premium products, instead of being offered somewhere to stay, or the mental help that is so desperately needed. While keeping the homeless around our store, and baiting them with free food, this is not only putting the baristas at risk but are putting the customers at risk as well. It’s foolish to think that a coffee and sandwich are going to change that person’s day, as they’ll just move on to the next customer begging for more. While it may make you feel good in the moment, think about how it’s going to affect others during the day, and what dangers you may be putting them in by your selfless act of kindness. I’m not saying don’t help someone in need, or don’t show someone kindness. I‘m simply trying to point out that not all generosity is reciprocated, and to be careful whom you choose to share it with.

During this learning process, we were optimistic and maybe a little foolish about our growing problem, thinking it would quietly go away. Unfortunately, the situation continues to be addressed daily with no end in sight. While upholding our standards, and compassion for our fellow human beings, we are continuously working towards a way to get the ones who need it, the much-needed help and support they are silently begging for while maintaining a safe space for our employees and customers.