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:
The full letter is below the jump.
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.
— Be:Seattle (@_beseattle) August 27, 2016
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.
— Be:Seattle (@_beseattle) August 24, 2016
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.