Saturday, January 5, 2019

Could Be

Interesting local story?  Maybe. I have only this screen shot to go on.

I haven’t seen any corroboration on social media from local first responders, no local news response. So, right now, it’s a screen shot, nothing more.

But it made me think about several issues. One is the recent national discussions  about who gets to use the bathrooms at Starbucks. Do you remember that? Starbucks had quite a public moment of reckoning when two African American men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia because Starbuck employees called the police on them. Their crime? They were waiting for a friend, hadn’t bought anything yet, and wanted to use the bathroom.

The underlying attitudes that led to this event are signs of an implicit bias that “just knows” who the right kind of people are and which ones are sketchy and undesirable. The fact that Starbucks had not addressed issues of bias before this event shows that they hadn’t been faced with the true ugliness of allowing employees to apply general store policies in uneven and discriminatory ways.

The reference in the tweet above to the woman giving birth as being homeless brought to mind an incident back in 2011 where General Growth Properties took the action of banning two homeless people and walked straight into a case with the ACLU.

The head of security at the mall has a general grievance about the homeless hanging out at the mall," said a 59-year-old man who said he has been homeless for more than two years and regularly passes time there, sometimes purchasing food with gift cards given to him.
"I'm basically a familiar fixture to them," he said. "I do not scare people away. I don't panhandle. I don't glare at anybody."

I wonder if there has been any significant improvement in the Mall’s interactions with the homeless community since then. Was there any helpful intervention from County government? Was General Growth willing to work collaboratively with Grassroots? Does this same issue persist eight years later? 

I have from time to time seen comments on social media decrying the downfall of the Mall because there are homeless people in the bathrooms. And occasionally you see coded language about the wrong kind of people at the Mall making ordinary upstanding citizens feel unsafe. (Insert “loud Black teens” here.)  The Mall is private property but it’s also a public space. Into that public space all kinds of people come.

Assumptions that the Mall is an appealing and successful place only if it is peopled largely with white, affluent shoppers may not be held by all of us but they are definitely out there. First off: I have no patience with anyone who feels the need to be protected from black and brown people in public spaces. Second: addressing the issue of homelessness in our community should be an issue with a comprehensive community response. And that  includes the attitudes and actions of people like you and me,  It certainly shouldn’t rest solely on the Mall or on Grassroots.

There’s plenty I don’t know about that. I know about Grassroots and the Route One Day Center  and that’s about it. I know that in most communities where the homeless are pushed out of public spaces they end up in libraries. And that’s another blog post right there. So is what kind of health care our as yet hypothetical expectant mother could hope to get while homeless.

There’s lots to think about. If I learn more, that I can share, I will let you know. In the meantime, if this account proves true this man’s wife and the folks at the Mall Starbucks deserve a shoutout on a job well done. And best wishes for many blessings to the new mother and her baby.

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