‘The Pledge’ stickers help Capitol Hill businesses tell homeless how they can help: water, food, restrooms, more

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Silvernail and Dubs outside Kaladi Brothers E Pike (Image: CHS)

The Pledge Sticker Example

Devin Silvernail has been trekking all over Seattle this summer trying to start a movement of businesses helping the homeless in their neighborhoods by placing stickers in their windows. He has made pretty solid progress — even with a big bump in the road.

The program’s stickers are black with white symbols letting people in need know that cafe or shop will let them use the bathroom, charge their phone, or get a drink of water.

“Whoever wants to do it can do it,” Silvernail told CHS.

On Wednesday, another business decided to participate, bringing the total to 12 across Seattle, including three in Capitol Hill. He hopes to reach 15 businesses by the end of August. But he did hit a setback with one of the first dozen.

Kaladi Brothers Coffee on E Pike was another location participating in The Pledge. Before joining, the leads at the shop used their creative know-how to start their own project to help those in need called the Community Card. Sean Dubs, assistant manager at Kaladi Brothers, said he hoped the Community Card and The Pledge program could grow together. But this week, Kaladi’s ownership decided to exit both programs over concerns about non-customers entering the building also home to Gay City the nonprofit that sublets the cafe space to the Alaska-headquartered coffee chain. It was a disappointing development for the efforts, Dubs said, but he is hoping to continue his work on the Community Card and working with Silvernail and The Pledge. UPDATE: Gay City referred CHS’s questions to Kaladi management for more details. We’ll follow up when the Seattle cafe’s manager is back from vacation. The building’s owner, Chip Ragen, tells CHS he wasn’t involved in the decision as Gay City manages the sub-lease with Kaladi and that he hopes to learn more about the program.

UPDATEx2: Kaladi has responded to our request for more information with a letter documenting their concerns about the program and why they decided to drop out:

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The full letter is below the jump.

DOC001

UPDATEx3: Here is a response from Silvernail about the Kaladi letter:

I respect and understand the concerns listed in their statement and thank them for their participation (albeit short-lived) in the collective. I believe they did a great job of welcoming all members of our community here on the Hill.

I do want to clarify for any members of the business community interested in taking The Pledge, that Kaladi Brothers on Pike was a member for approximately 2 weeks. It sounds like their concerns may have been going on for longer than those two weeks in early August and I would encourage business owners to look to other more long-term Pledge members such as Peloton Café or Columbia City Bakery for a representation of what membership looks like on a day-to-day basis.

I thank Kaladi Brothers for their work in the community and look forward to any sort of collaboration in the future.

Silvernail lived in Capitol Hill in his early 20s and returned after running political campaigns in San Francisco for four years.

His idea for The Pledge started from a political candidate in San Francisco who came up with a program providing incentives to businesses to open their bathroom for people who needed it. Silvernail’s idea for Seattle started with bathrooms, but that idea was met with concerns about drug use in the restrooms.

Then he learned about the Le Carillon project where businesses in Paris put stickers on shop windows letting the homeless know they were welcome to make a call or get some food or a drink, among other offerings.

Silvernail decided to expand his project to let businesses and cafes offer more things — water, a place to charge a phone and bathroom use. He eventually added food, hot drinks, LGBTQ safe space and use of basic tools and bike pumps.

“The limit of what you can do is your imagination,” Silvernail said.

Silvernail said he’s spoken to many businesses that declined to participate in The Pledge. Their biggest concerns were safety, liability and the stereotype that homeless people are aggressive.

But participating businesses haven’t seen an impact in operations or had an negative issues, he said.

Most of the businesses that are participating were immediately interested.

Peloton bicycle shop and cafe co-owners were some of the first on board. Co-owner Aaron Grant said it was an easy thing to say yes to and added that it doesn’t take much effort.

“It makes sense to us. If we were in that situation, we’d appreciate it,” Grant said.

Grant said they haven’t had anyone come in asking for their offered services through The Pledge, but expects the program will catch on as more businesses join the movement.

Word is beginning to spread. Silvernail has been getting businesses reaching out to him asking about participating.

Back at Kaladi, Dubs says the Community Card, came as a response to customers wanting to leave money to help pay for another person’s drink. Instead of having money piled up, customers could leave funds on Kaladi Brother’s Community Card, which could then be used by someone in need to buy food or drinks. The project started in July and the coffee shop’s card had about $1,300 on it when the plug was pulled.

Dubs said there were concerns about the project making the coffee shop a day shelter of sorts. “It has by no means made it less safe or less welcoming,” Dubs said. He hasn’t given up on the ideas. You can learn more at seattlecommunitycard.com if you would like to get involved.

The Pledge isn’t directly tied to the Community Card, but Silvernail thinks the two humanitarian programs can work together and help one another grow.

Silvernail started The Pledge in April, a project of his nonprofit Be:Seattle, which is focused on helping people with low incomes, renters and the homeless.

Until July, he funded the project with his own money. He now has regular volunteers and donations to have stickers and maps made. But as a new, small nonprofit he said even $5 helps.

Along with trying to get more businesses involved, Silvernail is also passing out maps that explains what The Pledge is, which businesses are participating, and what they are offering.

The maps also remind people utilizing the offerings to be polite and kind and remember that businesses are donating what they can.

You can learn more at seattlepledge.com.

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21 thoughts on “‘The Pledge’ stickers help Capitol Hill businesses tell homeless how they can help: water, food, restrooms, more

    • Robin, typically paying customers are less likely to shoot up in bathrooms, conduct other questionable activities, and leave the place a mess. Not always the case, but I’d wager on it. I’d also wager that people would be less likely to want to use a restroom that’s open to the public in that manner.

    • @AbleDanger: What evidence do you have to support that assertion? I used to work as a barista and we let non-paying customers use the bathroom. We definitely had people make a mess in the bathroom, but it was usually the paying customers who were responsible. Same goes for shooting up: Starbucks has locks on the bathroom doors and you have to be a customer to get the code but they still have problems with finding needles in the trash.

    • From that letter it looks like they made the right decision. The homeless were given the opportunity to get help and it looks like they decided to trash the establishment instead.

    • @Kerry – from the looks of the update, the owners, patrons, and passersby would serve as suitable evidence.

  1. This is a really nice idea but I would think that this would unavoidably encourage the homeless to frequent certain businesses, and I honestly would be less likely to use a business where the homeless are more frequent. Sorry, it just does not feel safe.

  2. Great idea, and commendable businesses that step up. It would be nice if public funds could be provided to the participating locations for TP, cleaning costs, etc. And to Devin Silvernail: Any chance of a public forum posting which establishments are open to this? Many of us local residents and workers would like to show our support and frequent these sites.

  3. Wow some People in this Thread they have many Privileges that they forget that simple things in life make difference in other people ‘Homelessness’ is not calling for ‘Trouble’. Think and be mindful/Kind and remember again that US used to have ‘White Only Places’ and segregation and now we have Class wars

  4. I work on the Hill and this is a great idea. On Friday as I left the building where I work the police were trying to remove a panhandling woman who has an obvious disability and I’ve seen sleeping in doorways for the past two weeks. It wasn’t pretty and it really made me think about how homelessness is being criminalized in our city. This is especially true for the mentally ill for whom services are severely limited. It is not always the case that odd or abnormal behavior is drug use or addiction. Having a place to use the bathroom, charge your phone or get a drink of water is important to those unfortunate enough to not have their own place.

    • I would like to think that the police, as part of removing the woman, referred her to some kind of social services for help. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But Seattle authorities need to get alot more interventionist with the mentally ill on our streets. If someone breaks a leg in public, they get immediate help and treatment. But if someone is exhibiting signs of obvious mental illness, everyone turns a blind eye. It’s disgraceful.

  5. I understand Kaladi’s concerns but I hope they donated the $1300 they collected to an appropriate charity. Where that money went would have been an entirely appropriate follow-up question for the writer to ask.

  6. This certainly is a perfect example of a head-on collision between idealism vs. reality. If you think that opening your business’s restrooms to the homeless is a great idea, that is a sign of privilege – in that you’ve never had to clean public restrooms in a big city. It is not for the faint of heart.

    When I was 19 and full of youthful optimism regarding humanity, I didn’t understand why restrooms in Europe charged a small fee for access and/or had attendants (or, on the flip side, why most non-secure public places in the US don’t have restrooms at all). My 30-year old self completely gets it.

  7. My own experience of the homeless on Capitol Hill is that they are not “members of the community”. They sleep in the entryway to my apartment, and leave garbage and waste behind when they leave. They take over the local park, and dump trash everywhere. they scream and yell all night, and slam the dumpsters. Members of a community contribute to it. they don’t take and destroy. and the idealistic thought that getting a few businesses to open up their facilities to some homeless but good people who will respectfully and gratefully use said facilities quickly, will soon be met with the reality of what they are. selfish users and takers.

    • No, they aren’t members of the community. They don’t have anything at stake there, and eventually they’ll be told to go somewhere else. But do you prefer urinate in an alley? What does that do for the neighborhood?

    • @ jc… You’re not wrong by any means, but then again what does it do for a neighborhood when at the businesses paying customers can’t use the facilities because they’re booked up with the less fortunate? See Kaladi’s note. Tricky business.
      I think it would be great if businesses could advocate for larger scale solutions (say, fundraise and/or work with the city) rather than putting themselves and the neighborhood on the line like this.

    • The bottom line is that if you are a business and rely on paying customers to operate, you’d better focus on the well-being of your paying customers and not what goes on out on the street.

    • To M–beware blanket statements/stereotyping. It can lead to dangerously dehumanizing attitudes. Just as not all those living in high-cost Capitol Hill apartments are judgemental and elitist, not all those who lack housing scream at night and litter.

    • The owner has the right to evict anyone who abuses this. But not all of them will do so. Some will appreciate having a nice place to go every day. Don’t color them all with the same brush.

  8. My experience with the homeless on Capital Hill have been as the Kaladi Brother’s experience has been. We have an huge issue on the hill and something like this is a nice idea but it isn’t addressing the core issue. There should be services, mental health counseling, things to help them get to the point where they make better choices. Maybe even reintegrate the homeless into society. For those that choose homelessness then should understand they are choosing a hard life. But those that are not choosing it should be given services to help them be successful human beings (or at least the best they can be) while they are here on earth. It sad, you can judge a society based on how we treat the least amongst us. We as a society have a responsibility to our lessor citizens. We just need to do real solid life changing work. I understand the goal but I think it is misguided.

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