As we continue to work towards the complex improvement of our downtown, I continue to think deeply about the rather wide-ranging views of what both compassion and reasonable accountability look and feel like. No doubt like you, I contemplate this on a personal level, on an organizational level, and on a community level.
Personally, I want to acknowledge discomfort. For many of us, there is fear and unfamiliarity with the reality of living on the streets, and we express that in different ways, depending on the day or the pressures in our lives. It is very much my intention to treat all the people I encounter with respect and care. I hear about and see individuals from some of our community partners like Groundworks and Turning Point approach the folks camped out on the Whetstone Pathway across from our doors and sit down with them to find out how they are doing. I am filled with admiration, acknowledging that this level of transcending discomfort must be explored and practiced. I have work to do.
I also recognize that many of those same people, who are unhealthy and in pain, have transgressed my boundaries of accountability when they have come into our Co-op and stolen product. No matter what the situation, thievery is a problem, and not something that we can look away from. And when a customer, any customer, steals product or acts belligerent to our staff, they will be cited with either an affidavit of trespass by a police officer, or an offer to report to Restorative Justice for support and accountability (that word again) for the root causes behind their transgression. If they choose the latter but do not meet their contractual obligations, they revert to the court system.
In a recent community meeting, a homeless advocate railed against these “no-trespass” orders, claiming that people on the streets need access to food as well. Yes, absolutely. However, if they violate our welcome by stealing from us, or by frightening our employees or customers, they forfeit that right, at least for one year. This, in my opinion, is a simple ground rule.
And then there are the scary encounters, the criminal behavior, and the violation of the Co-op’s premises by soliciting, sometimes aggressively, in our parking lot. We try to monitor this activity, but are not always successful. We call our local law enforcement frequently to report such activity, and, based on their staffing at that moment, they respond or they don’t. One request I have made of shoppers who have complained to me is to please contact law enforcement. They need to hear not only from businesses like ours, but from citizens who have experienced bad behavior. When law enforcement responds, they are respectful. Groundworks has also offered to send an outreach person, if there is someone sleeping in a public space or in need of help. Their phone number is 254-5415.
We continue to participate in all of the various groups and conversations happening around town, since our survival depends on it. We are anxious to move on all of the tiny pieces of an ultimate solution, as are many of our neighbors downtown. Again, we urge you to get involved with some of the organizations that are working so diligently with limited resources to help move things forward. There is a very recent initiative to form Neighborhood Watches, where sheer presence is helpful.
Pay attention and step up. We all stand to gain from your efforts.
See you in the aisles, and in the parking lot!
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager