In many areas of the nation, homelessness has become a humanitarian crisis. And as it increasingly intersects with restaurant operations, owners and their staffs are finding themselves engaged in an emotional tug of war – how to provide a positive experience for customers while also showing kindness and empathy to those in need.
San Diego County, California, has one of the highest homelessness rates in the country, which prompted the amazing team at Business for Good, a community-oriented nonprofit comprised of area businessowners, to take action. They've created a Homeless Toolkit, which helps businessowners approach homelessness from a human-centered viewpoint.
Here are some tips and resources – many compiled from the toolkit – to guide you and your team.
To more fully understand the scope of homelessness, let's look briefly at some 2018 statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):
- There are approximately 553,000 people experiencing homelessness;
- Families with children account for more than 180,000 of this group;
- There are 36,000 "unaccompanied" youth, who are under age 25 and experiencing homelessness on their own;
- 65 percent of the homeless population have access to emergency shelter and transitional housing programs; and
- 35 percent are living on the streets or in abandoned buildings.
3-Step Plan + Sample Scenarios
Depending on your restaurant's location, the frequency with which you encounter individuals or families experiencing homelessness will vary. Regardless, the basic approach to humanely tackling homelessness situations is to:
- Direct elsewhere (to resources, services, authorities, etc.)
In general, you want to take steps to discourage repeated and unauthorized gatherings on your property, know how to defuse tense situations when they occur and be ready to refer those in need to other resources and services.
Let's look at some basic sample scenarios before we get to the detailed DOs and DON'Ts.