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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Portland's homeless present unique "challenges"

Remember the Panera restaurant in the Hollywood District, which is letting people eat for free if they want? It's hard to believe, but the folks running that place actually thought that program was going to be slightly profitable! Apparently that's how it's worked out elsewhere, but funny thing, Portlandia's quite different:

Shaich said a number of down-and-out visitors to the Hollywood café had an attitude that he calls "a sense of entitlement" that the homeless and disadvantaged didn’t appear to have in other cities.

Staff at the café and Shaich talked about people with obvious needs for mental health and addiction services camping out in the eating area, making it less appealing for customers who can pay to keep the café open.

"We had to help them understand that this is a café of shared responsibility and not a handout," Shaich said. "It can’t serve as a shelter and we can’t have community organizations sending everybody down."

Good luck, buddy. Your staff is going to be doing a lot of convincing, day after day. One of these days (if it hasn't already occurred), something is going to happen that will require police intervention. And it's hard to believe that paying customers who happen to be there to witness an ugly scene will come back for a second visit.

Panera's got an interesting concept, but Portland's street people will really put it to the test. Wait 'til it starts raining.

Comments (20)

"I've been camping in your doorway all night. Is my breakfast ready yet?"

But seriously, are social workers and others telling people they can eat for free at Panera?

What a sad commentary on the character of this city. As someone who works downtown and frequents the Trader Joe's next to Panera, I'm not surprised. While there are a lot of good people who are down on their luck, Portland is a haven for losers who simply want to go "off the grid" and survive on social welfare. Some of the gutter punks who wouldn't apply for a job as a dishwasher at this place are probably the ilk using it as base camp for the day. Welcome to Portland, get out while you still can!


"This establishment reserves the right to refuse service to anybody."

Ask them nicely to get out.

If they refuse, then ask again.

If they still refuse or begin to get animated/excited, then contact the police to help escort them out.

Make sure they know they are now banned from the establishment and make sure the employees know who they are and to always watch out for them as many hold grudges and can cause problems later.

Sucks, but such is life when dealing with the public. Many are good people and a few are not. The goal should be to help them all, but some don't want help or expect to be helped.

not to mention the kids from grant who go there for lunch when mommy and daddy haven't given them any $$

It seems as though "the right to refuse service" rule would be a bit more tricky to enforce in this situation. There are more folks dining there with mental disorders and drug dependency than your run of the mill sandwich shop.

A recipe for a bad ending with the law when told to leave or else.

Credit to Panera for trying, but it would seem more prudent to run a profit only business and then turn the proceeds over to a professional non-profit for distibution.

It's interesting that the model Panera is using works in Detroit and St. Louis---but in Portland no one wants to pay. Plus they have to hire a former corrections deputy to get people out of there who insist on camping out every day.

Sad commentary on the failure of good intentions with the bums in this city.

It's certainly an interesting idea. But with how the world is these days (especially in Portlandia), you have people who will take advantage of any situation possible: homeless being able to eat decent food for free, school kids doing the same, etc.

Sad times.

'Sad commentary on the failure of good intentions with the bums in this city.'

The naivete of people in this city is so shocking to me it borders on criminal.

A fish rots from the head down. Sounds like they learned their skills from City hall.

"It's interesting that the model Panera is using works in Detroit and St. Louis---but in Portland no one wants to pay."

I don't think there is much of a stigma attached to homelessness for many homeless in Portland. Particularly the young downtown are often aggressive about their situation. They certainly don't appear to be ashamed or apologetic about living off other's kindness.

I am near this Panera Cares frequently. It's impact has been not as bad as I feared, but still has had a noticable impact on the area in terms of panhandling and people just hanging around. Trader Joes and their landlord have commendable patience.

I have the feeling this place will eventually go back to being a "normal" fixed price location or close down completely after a number of "incidents" happen. The more or less complete lack of enforcement of "quality of life" laws in Portland has resulted in your city becoming a magnet for bums, runaways and homeless drug users..

This shouldn't be happening. After all, we only allow "smart" growth (welled planned densification).

I think I'll move to an area of "dumb" growth where a community evolves through the interaction of responsible individuals, or it doesn't evolve at all.

It's really too bad the program isn't working out in Portland. A lot of people scoffed when the first one opened in upscale Clayton, Missouri (St. Louis suburb) but it's been a quiet success here, and St. Louis ain't the most giving place on earth. (Panera initially opened its doors as "The St. Louis Bread Company" and locally we still refer to is "Bread Co.") Hopefully they'll work the kinks out. A lot of people in St. Louis, however, don't realize the extent of the homeless problem in other cities. In St. Louis, you're only homeless if you're desperate - none of the traveling gutter punks here, because the weather is so awful that people die from it, winter and summer. There are about fifty truly homeless people in an encampment down on the riverfront, and the city has been wringing its hands about it all summer long, trying to figure out what to do with them before winter hits.

Ditto for Gibby's suggestion - run it as a for-profit but donate any profits to local shelters and social service agencies. A percentage of the profits could be in the form of coupons or vouchers for free or reduced-price food at Panera.

Jennifer, those are interesting insights. We definitely measure our homeless in the thousands out here, and the temperate weather allows for permanent homelessness along the West Coast. When the rainy season comes, some of them head south. The younger ones can be pretty mobile.

They should just take food to one of the shelters instead of serving it at the restaurant. They may even find one that will pick it up.

"This establishment reserves the right to refuse service to anybody."

Actually, no, they don't have that right. Those signs are common, but they do not have the force of law. If you are in business to serve the public, you have to have good cause to refuse service to someone (which may well be the case here). If merchants could pick and choose whom to serve according to personal whim, racial discrimination would still be legal.

Semi-cynic: you're wrong. All businesses can set standards for behavior, hygiene, and dress. None of these criteria are based on race or any protected status.

If you start shouting to the ghosts in your mind, reek of urine, or don't have shoes on, any retail establishment can ask you to leave, as can any public building. The fact the a place like the Downtwon MultCo library tolerates the bums says more about Portland's ethos than the law.

"All businesses can set standards for behavior, hygiene and dress."

True, and perhaps Panera should post such standards at their entrance. That's not what I'm talking about. I was commenting specifically on those often-seen signs that merely say "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" without specifying any criterial for such refusal. No business should ever post such a sign. It provides no legal cover whatsoever and needlessly injects an undercurrent of hostility into the customer experience.

semi-cynic, It doesn't set "an undercurrent of hostility" to me if I see such a sign.

It conveys that maybe I should behave myself, or if I see infractions, like Mister Tee suggests that is way beyond the norm, then my telling management of an infraction might have results. And I feel a little safer. And the sign is legal. And if a business wants to post it, that's their perogitive, their business and not mine. I can walk away if I'm offended.

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