Wed, 01/25/2023 - 15:17
An interior of a Starbucks cafe
Starbucks is inviting social workers to assist homeless people in its cafes.
  • Since 2018, Starbucks has had an open-bathroom policy for nonpaying customers. 
  • But as homeless people seek refuge in cafés, Starbucks has invited outreach workers to talk them. 
  • Starbucks contracts with outreach workers in eight US cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle. 

Starbucks' "third place" ethos has evolved beyond being a community hub for coffee lovers.

Over the years, cafés have become makeshift offices for remote workers as well as temporary shelters for homeless people. But the latter can challenge store workers who are not trained to help people in crisis. Recently, the Seattle-based chain has opted to bring in outreach workers to assist homeless people, The Guardian reported.

Starbucks cafés in eight US cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago, are part of the two-year-old program, according to the article. The chain contracts with various nonprofit partners who send outreach workers to visit cafés to consult with and offer services to homeless people, such as information on local shelters and soup kitchens.

Starbucks did not immediately return a request for comment.  

A chain spokesperson told The Guardian that the program, launched in 2020, aims to support and strengthen the communities around its stores.

With this program specifically, Starbucks "wanted to be a part of the solution" alongside nonprofits with experience in this area, the spokesperson told the Guardian.

The Starbucks program underscores how top national chains have adopted policies to assist employees and the wider public, filling a role traditionally met by local and federal agencies. In 2020, Starbucks, Chipotle, and Costco led the way in mandating mask-wearing in their stores.

Since 2018, Starbucks has had an "open door" policy to give bathroom access to nonpaying customers. The company changed its bathroom policy after a racial-discrimination incident in which a Black customer was denied access to the bathroom.

"We don't want to become a public bathroom, but we're going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key," Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told the Seattle Times at the time.

But last year, citing safety concerns for its employees, Schultz, who is now the interim CEO, hinted that the policy might change. "I don't know if we can keep bathrooms open," he said during the New York Times's DealBook D.C. policy forum.

In 2022, Starbucks said it closed 16 stores to protect the health and safety of its employees. At the time, the company said modifying bathroom policies and "partnering with local outreach workers" is one way Starbucks is working to help stores. 

"We want you to know that creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place is our top priority. Because simply put, we cannot serve as partners if we don't first feel safe at work," company executives told employees last year

According to federal data, the number of homeless people has remained relatively flat since the pandemic. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a December report that about 582,462 people were without shelter on a single night in January 2022. That's up .3%, or 1,996 people, since 2020. 

Last year, Starbucks pledged nearly $500,000 to support homeless programs in Seattle, where the chronic homeless population has increased 42% annually over the past four years. 

Are you a fast food insider with insight to share? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at nluna@insider.com or via Signal encrypted number 714-875-6218.

Read the original article on Business Insider