After Suspended Coffee’s initial wave of popularity on the social media, critics have come out of the woodwork to cut down the idea. Some have been blatantly trolls, some have been hopelessly cynical, and some have made good points. Here is a summary of some of the criticisms. None have dampened my belief that this is a good idea. Here is my personal response to some of these criticisms.
Criticism: “Suspended Coffee” is a marketing scam.
Reply: This started as a response to a Facebook post that went viral just before Easter and featured a picture from the Washington Post of a homeless man named Cal Walker. I knew it was a good idea right away and got this domain and plan to develop this site. I am committed to not making any money from it. My personal work is and will remain free for others to use. Max of Facebook’s Coffee Sospeso (Suspended Coffee) community has publicly requested that people not take advantage of the movement financially.
This isn’t to say that no one will ever try, but at this point most of the people involved appear to be acting in a spirit of goodwill.
Criticism: Homeless people won’t know where to go or how to ask for “Suspended Coffee”
Reply: First, I have helped solve this by offering a flyer that businesses may use to communicate to customers how to give and receive Suspended Coffees. You may download a copy here or create your own. Secondly, there are networks that form in the homeless community. I know that times I have offered a homeless person some food at work, only to find him return the next day along with several buddies, for better or for worse. That is truly not an issue.
Criticism: Employees or business owners will steal the money.
Reply: That is certainly possible. However, it is highly unlikely that businesses will risk the scandal of stealing from homeless people. The amount they could benefit is paltry compared to the risk. Employees may be tempted to steal them or to donate them to their friends. Again, the risks outweigh the benefits, even if the risk is less to the employee. The business owners will be motivated to make sure their employees are honest. My Suspended Coffee certificate would help owners keep track of sales.
Criticism: People who do not need the coffee may take advantage of the program
Reply: This criticism is founded. While most people do have a conscience and will use Suspended Coffees properly, there are a small percentage of people who are more in need of morals than money. Furthermore, you can not expect the cashier/barista to be able to make that determination. Not all homeless people are old drunken men who smell of beer and pee. If you choose to participate in the Suspended coffee idea, you must accept the risk that there will be times that someone takes advantage of it.
Criticism: No one will want to go to cafe’s that have a bunch of hobos that smell
Reply: That is a stereotype. There are many women and children that are homeless too, and many homeless people are very creative in finding ways to stay clean. Many poor people, who are not quite homeless, could also use some suspended coffee.
There are some that fit the stereotype and these people can become problematic in other ways. Sometimes a homeless person who is drunk can become disruptive and harass the other customers. That is why I added a disclaimer to the door flyer that businesses may refuse service to them, just as they may refuse service to any drunk customer who is disrupting the store.
Criticism: There are better ways to help the poor, like food banks and other charities.
Reply: Of course there are other ways to help, but that doesn’t mean that this is a bad idea or that it will supplant other forms of charity. It’s a new way to help others. At the very least it is a good way to get people involved in charity who might otherwise not do so. If you support the idea of Suspended Coffee, you may want to consider doing a little more to help others in need: like handing out bus tokens, $5 gift cards, protein or granola bars directly to homeless people; or donating to food banks and other charities.
Plus, sometimes homeless people have barriers to reaching other charities. Food banks do not always just give out food to anyone who asks. They usually have a qualification system and limits to the time someone can receive food. For example, our main local food bank in Boulder CO., EFAA, is focused on taking care of families and they require that you prove that you have children, live in the area, and have a low enough income. EFAA does a lot of great work, but they don’t and can’t help everyone.
Criticism: It will be too difficult to keep track of and require too much work for the cashier/barista.
Reply: The certificate solves a lot of these problems. It provides a place for keeping track of the items purchased, the amount, the date, a place for a tracking number, and a place to tip the server. The customer can fill it out, so there’s less work for the employees. I created the certificate based on my experience working at a food bank, using a food bank, working at a food establishment, and being homeless.
Criticism: What if there are too many coffees purchased, but not enough takers?
Reply: The simple solution would be for a business to allow only a set number of Suspended Coffees at a time. Once they reach that limit, they would not take any orders until some of the certificates were used up.
In short, while the idea of Suspended Coffee may not be perfect, it is a good idea and with some tweaking should work in many locations.
Sources include: http://consumerist.com/2013/03/29/why-ordering-suspended-coffees-for-the-needy-is-stupid-and-inefficient/
…and an assortment of comments on Facebook.