Starbucks's new homeless policy doesn't pass the smell test

Starbucks's new homeless policy doesn't pass the smell test

When Starbucks announced that anyone could sit in its cafés without buying anything, everyone realized that this was an open invitation to the homeless...except, incredibly, the senior management at Starbucks.  Now Starbucks has amended its new policy to say that while everyone is welcome at Starbucks, even if he doesn't buy anything, customers are not allowed to sleep or take narcotics in Starbucks cafés.

Starbucks wants people to know: Just because folks can now use its bathrooms without buying anything does not give all carte blanche to disrupt others.

Or, as Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz recently told the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.: "We don't want to become a public bathroom."

Guess what, Mr. Schultz?  If "customers" don't have to buy anything, you've just become one!

Separately, a Starbucks procedure manual for employees offered detailed instructions on what to do if someone is behaving in a disruptive manner.  It said disruptive behaviors include smoking, drug or alcohol use, improper use of restrooms and sleeping.  

Does Schultz think a ban on drug use and sleeping will keep the homeless away?

Some thoughts:

1. The homeless will continue to take narcotics but will take them in the Starbucks restroom.  Does Starbucks seriously expect its baristas to follow the homeless into the bathrooms to check out what they're doing?  Starbucks bathrooms will become no-go zones, like parts of London and Paris.

2. The new policy bans sleeping in a Starbucks.  But what if a black homeless person sleeps in a Starbucks?  Does anyone seriously think these rules apply to black people?  Probably not, given Starbucks's enormous fear of being labeled racist.

3. The new policy bans acting in a "disruptive manner" without specifying what that is.  Can homeless people beg for money in Starbucks?  If not that, can they silently hold up signs asking for cash?

4. Even if the homeless are perfectly behaved, they will take up tables that could go to paying customers.

5. Even if the homeless are perfectly behaved, their smell and poor hygiene will drive customers away.

Starbucks, in trying to be "inclusive" to everyone, forgets that any business exists by appealing to a certain kind of customer.  The Four Seasons doesn't admit customers without shirts and shoes.  The Hyatt Regency doesn't let the homeless live in its lobby.  Tesla doesn't encourage MS-13 to sit in its showroom cars, playing the car stereos on extra-loud.

When a brand fails to discriminate, to encourage only those who are in its prime customer base, it tells its customers that this is not the right kind of business for them.  Starbucks has always been about appealing to an upper-middle-class crowd.  Serving as a magnet for smelly homeless people teeming with lice and maggots will drive away its prime audience.

Any person of average intelligence instinctively knows this.  But it is apparent that Mr. Schultz and the management at Starbucks are so wedded to doctrinaire liberalism that they are blind to common sense.  How long before they are out of a job, and Starbucks cafés disappear faster than Blockbuster Video?

Ed Straker is the senior writer at

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