On a chilly recent morning, customers inside a Starbucks in New York City’s midtown were doing what you’d expect: buying coffee, warming up, chatting. But one person was moving through the store with a different purpose: she first approached a woman standing near the door, and then another man seated with a cup of coffee, saying hello, asking how they were and offering them gloves, hats and handwarmers.
This was an outreach worker named Thashana Jacobs, and this store was her first stop of the day. The organization she works for, a homeless outreach and housing non-profit, has been contracted by Starbucks to deal with an issue that the company feels it cannot ignore: the number of unhoused people who come into the store looking for a place to sit, rest and use the restroom.
The program shows how private companies may find themselves filling holes in the US social safety net. And it also takes pressure off Starbucks baristas who may lack the formal expertise needed to deal with customers experiencing a crisis.