Letter: Treatment of homeless woman felt discriminatory

Editor: I was sitting in a Starbucks (Safeway Langley, Fraser Crossing) when a woman pushed a cart to a fence by the store, pulled out some bags and set them down out of the way. Then she came and sat inside. A security person seemed to be photographing her and taking notes.

I bought “Joan” (a pseudonym, to protect her identity) a coffee, and we chatted. She’s almost 60 years old and is homeless. Then she said she was going to get kicked out because she had a cart.

I was surprised, so spoke with security who said Joan was banned from the shopping plaza because no carts were allowed, and that police had been called.

Then security put the bags in the cart and pushed it out onto the Fraser Highway sidewalk, out of sight—not to the Safeway on the lot, to whom the cart belonged.

The Starbucks shift supervisor said she has a book with pictures of people who were banned, and that Joan’s picture is in it. She did not know why Joan was banned, that it was not specific to Starbucks but related to the shopping plaza.

I asked Joan if there was any reason for the plaza managers to ban her. She said there was an “incident” a few years back, when she had a health crisis assumed to be drug-related, but it wasn’t. Otherwise, she said, she caused no trouble.

Then two police officers arrived and told me private enterprises have the right to refuse service, as long as it isn’t discriminatory. All this was occurring while a walker sat outside the Starbucks unattended and in the way. No one showed concerned about it, so a rule against carts did seem discriminatory.

The police spoke with Joan for some time and she agreed to leave, but at the end of it she was angry and began to use offensive language. When I suggested her language would not help the situation, she stopped.

When Joan got to the cart, her backpack was gone. A search of Starbucks found no backpack. It was stolen.

Joan cried. She had a little money in there, among other things. The police had left by the time we came back.

When security was asked if it was necessary to remove the items, along with the cart, she said they were “strewn around” and unattended, and something to the effect that unattended bags are a concern in this day and age.

If she really thought the backpack might be a bomb, would she have handled it at all, I wondered. And the items were not “strewn around,” nor were they left unattended as Joan had positioned herself to watch them. On learning about the stolen bag, security only said, “homeless people steal from each other all the time.”

I don’t know Joan, and it may be that she was banned for disruptive behavior, but no one could confirm that. During this incident, she became angry only at the end, after having been recorded and threatened for some time.

People can be banned for good reason, but having a shopping cart — an identifier of homelessness — is not a good reason. It is discriminatory. Many, if not most, homeless cause no trouble to the public or private enterprises.

Catherine Genton,

Langley

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