Restaurants Struggle to Cope with the Convergence of Outdoor Diners and Homeless People.
Customers and staff are becoming frustrated by panhandlers in New York City. As a result, business owners are looking for new ways to reduce hostility by hiring security guards or providing food for the poor.
Owner and chef Stephen Werther of Suprema Provisions in the West Village witnessed aggressive panhandling when he opened his shop for outdoor dining in the summer of 2020.
After a few months, he realized that hiring security guards was a mistake. Instead, he came up with a better idea.
Mr. Werther explained, "We prepare food for them." There are a number of things that he lets the panhandlers order, including hamburgers, pasta Bolognese, and spaghetti pomodoro. Rather of creating an adversarial relationship, he added, it's fostered a sense of community with the homeless and panhandlers.
The coronavirus pandemic's economic impact has exacerbated the country's already-increasing homelessness problem. Nearly 12,000 eateries in New York City have received permits to provide outside dining, and diners are increasingly reporting being asked for money.
The New York Police Department does not classify and track incidents involving homeless individuals and eateries. Thousands of restaurants have moved dining to the streets and sidewalks as more people become homeless and their staff and homeless advocacy groups say in interviews that such clashes have escalated.
These meetings between the rich and poor are frequently brief and cordial. Restaurants try a variety of methods to defuse tense situations. These include hiring security guards, phoning the police on a frequent basis, depending on workers to handle the problem, or, like Mr. Werther did, simply offering assistance to people in need.
According to a number of restaurant owners, soliciting and subsequent disagreements have recently intensified due to increased frequency and persistence. They also concurred that the city should do more to address the problem. They concurred.
According to a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, the city has tripled the number of outreach workers since 2014, totaling more than 600. According to Kate Smart, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office, "over the last year and a half of this crisis, our invaluable outreach teams have gone above and beyond amid unprecedented circumstances to engage unsheltered New Yorkers, provide them with information on the range of resources available, and encourage them to accept services."
For example, if there are a lot of 311 complaints, the city will send out an outreach team, police, and even a sanitation truck to remove the few possessions of a homeless person, according to Coalition for the Homeless senior policy analyst Jacquelyn Simone.
As Ms. Simone pointed out, the city hasn't been able to provide permanent and inexpensive housing for the homeless in the past. Dorm-style shelters are often avoided by the homeless. According to her, many people believe the homelessness situation is not being addressed with the intensity it requires.
To avoid damaging the trust that outreach providers have built up with homeless individuals over time, Ms. Simone hopes that restaurant employees may reach out to one another instead of resorting to security guards or calling the police.
A lot of the wealthy individuals who can dine out during a pandemic don't want to be reminded of the poverty in our society, she said. It's true that many people wished they hadn't seen it. Pushing a problem out of sight vs truly assisting is a significant distinction.
Thousands of homeless individuals were relocated to hotel rooms on Manhattan's west side last year to try to contain the spread of Covid in group shelters. Near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a number of methadone treatment centers and the pedestrian dead zone at the Lincoln Tunnel's entrance, restaurants in Hell's Kitchen are used to coping with disturbances but believe that the growing number of homeless individuals has compounded the problem.
About 8,000 homeless people were relocated from hotels to dormlike shelters throughout the summer, which allayed some of those fears. However, a large number of restaurant owners admitted that they are still attempting to resolve issues on a daily basis.
After an altercation with persons he claimed were homeless at Tavola in Hell's Kitchen, co-owner John Accardi reported that one of their staff members had his hand cut off and his kid had been almost stabbed. Instead of risking injury, he advises his employees to avoid these kind of confrontations, he claims. His table and chair were broken, but he preferred it than someone stealing them.
When a guy who he assumed to be homeless entered Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company in Chelsea last month and spat on customers and employees before calling the police, president and co-owner Panos Voyiatzis said he was shocked.
Mr. Voyiatzis claims that when employees offered the man a bagel sandwich and coffee, he refused. "We wouldn't just toss them out," he insisted. What do you want for dinner?'" I'd be happy to make you something to eat. Waiting outside will get you a free bagel and coffee.' It's not as simple as it used to be."
Ashley Belcher, 28, a former homeless person, stated that when outdoor eating structures appeared almost overnight, folks who had set up their goods nearby suddenly had to evacuate. She claimed that during the day they were free to stay in the constructions, but at night they were confined.
As a result of the pandemic, Ms. Belcher was able to get off the streets for the first time since she was 14. Human, a homeless advocacy group in New York City, has placed her as an outreach worker and organizer while she continues to live in a hotel. She recalled that when she was homeless, eateries wouldn't let her sit outdoors unless she bought something from them. She'd have to ask a customer for help if she needed it.
Owner Sophie Serrano of Chelsea's Counter & Bodega, a pan-Latin eatery, claimed she first tried feeding panhandlers to resolve disagreements. She claimed, however, that as word spread, more and more individuals began to show up, asking for food and cash. She reported that one man made himself visible to patrons while another entered the restaurant with an enraged pit dog.
At some point last year, Ms. Serrano claimed that clashes with panhandlers at Counter & Bodega became so bad that the restaurant was forced to hire security guards on the days of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. According to her, security was $375 per week, which she found burdensome in light of the restaurant's sales decline due to the epidemic.
It got to the point that Ms. Serrano decided to relocate the restaurant down the block, where there have been far less problems. She made the right decision. She described it as a "gift in disguise" for her family. They said it best: "We were literally falling apart."
The sidewalks and streets are considered a forum where people can use their First Amendment rights to free speech, according to Nadine Strossen, a professor at the New York Law School. Speech that is only provocative or distressing can't be silenced by security guards until it crosses a boundary into harassment, compulsion, or intimidation.
After being homeless since 2016, Karim Walker, 40, now has his own apartment and believes that some individuals are unaware of the legislation and how its enforcement may effect them. Whatever your age or situation in life, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
Homeless and sleeping in a park in Manhattan, 33-year-old Steven Conti was brought to the city last December. He sees a benefit from the rise of outdoor dining. Outside socializing is more like a party, according to him. "I'm not one to moan about things like that. To be honest, I prefer it.
Oaxaca Taqueria in Murray Hill has a popular lunch area in its six-month-old outdoor seating structure. Even yet, after the restaurant shuts for the night, it's often used as a hangout spot for patrons to consume alcohol and puff on cigarettes.
A manager, Angie Cuervo, alleged trash and even human feces were left behind. To make matters worse, she claimed, she'd have to clean up after herself since she wouldn't want her clients to see what she found when she opened the next day.
Employees at Tribeca's Kitchen are expected to feed those in need. A man went from table to table seeking for help this summer, according to Andreas Koutsoudakis Jr., the restaurant's owner. As he described it, Mr. Koutsoudakis reached over and offered the man a snack.
The people who saw me talking to him offered him money and said, 'What you did was great,'" Mr. Koutsoudakis remembered. He went on to say that he learned to appreciate his neighbors from his father, who started the restaurant and died from Covid last year. "This is what the customers are looking at. Doing nice for others is what they want to witness."
To Mr. Werther, the Italian custom of "caffè sospeso," where customers pay for an additional coffee to be provided to someone who can't afford it, embodies the spirit of Suprema Provisions.
"While offering food to our neighbors in need is not strictly caffè sospeso, the idea that we are all in this world together and should do all we can to help each other out is the same," he said.