Dear Mr. Schultz,
I was homeless last winter and my gold Starbucks card kept me warm, safe and dry. It also helped me utilize social media to, in very small ways, help the lives other homeless people. I am @From_Nothing on Twitter, and I now have several thousand followers. Being able to access the Internet and tweet with my smart phone, which was paid for by a wonderful friend, while enjoying a warm cup of coffee at Starbucks, was crucial for my survival and eventually helped me end my homelessness.
I imagine that the homeless are a very daunting and sad situation for Starbucks employees and patrons to have to deal with, but in many ways having a safe place to stay helped change my life and the lives of others. I am hoping my story might help you and your team to find positive ways to help the homeless and reduce the negative impact of having homeless people in your stores.
I know from my own experience that the difference between persevering and being lost is sometimes an infinitesimal distinction. Most people don't think their life situation is going to fall apart, and neither did I. But it did.
I wound up on the street and utilizing the local shelter system where I live in Oak Park, IL. It is a temporary set up meant to house the homeless at night. In the mornings we are all forced out in the January cold promptly at 7AM. Fortunately, my first few weeks being homeless I had money remaining on my Starbucks Gold card, so I was able to stay out of the bitter freezing cold. My fellow homeless brethren were not so lucky, and had to wait two hours until the local library opened.
Because I had my Gold card, I was able to stay connected to the mainstream. This proved to be an asset to me, and others in the homeless community. At first, I was just getting by and Tweeting with others who expressed concern and care for me, but ultimately these connections gave me an idea.
As the money was starting to run out on my card, I began to grow very concerned as to how I would stay warm and safe in the mornings. I did not want to continue to come to Starbucks without money to spend. This is my community. I did not want to be removed from the store because I was not a paying customer. It didn't feel right and this was "my" third place long before I was homeless. I did not want my friends and neighbors to know I had no place to go.
When I became homeless I tweeted about all the things that were not available to the homeless that prior to homelessness I assumed must surely be available. As funds were dwindling, I asked my followers for any ideas as to where I could go to stay warm, safe and dry before the library opened. After several days and many tweets, no one ever came up with a single idea where I could go, but eventually one of my followers asked if they could send me a Starbucks card with some money on it. I was hesitant at first, pride and all, but I quickly realized I had no other option. From that moment forward one of my followers has always sent me a card, or refilled my card for me. I never had to spend a moment in the cold while homeless.
By having a place to stay warm I was able to start helping others using the power of Twitter to get things they needed: gift cards, winter boots, eyeglasses and other essential needs, when I asked for my followers to help. I realized that "small things can do great things." The blog post "Steve and His Glasses" and "A Place to Call Their Own" really explain how I was able to use social media to help others in small ways that would greatly change their lives. I now work -- thanks to Starbucks and Twitter -- to show the world how important it is to have a safe place to be and the power that social media has to help create change.
Starbucks changed my life and helps me still change the lives of others by allowing me an Internet connection and a place to have a meeting with someone in need, or who wants to help those in need. I would love to see this goodwill work for others, and would like to propose that Starbucks work with leaders in the homeless community to find more solutions that can make a difference. I know work is already being done, such as donating old pastries to local shelters. I think we can do more, especially if we harness the power of technology.
I really can imagine you and your team could come up with many far more interesting, impactful and mutually beneficial ideas than I possibly could. I'm just writing so you'll know the important role you've played in my life, and let you know that there is a growing community of other customers who are willing and able to keep the momentum going. In fact, I've started a Change.org petition so that people who want to help can take action too. I know together we can help keep the homeless off the street and direct them to better resources, and people like me, to help them get out of their plight.
Oak Park, IL
Follow Revolution MacInnes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/From_Nothing