Mon, May

Will Starbucks Really be Sued for ‘Running a Homeless Shelter’ or is This Another Hollywood Publicity Stunt?


DEEGAN ON LA—-Arnold Schwarzenegger had Columbia Pictures promote one of his movies by painting the title logo on the main fuselage of an unmanned rocket that was then launched into outer space by NASA. Anything  to get attention: although in the case of his 1993 movie "Last Action Hero” even that stratospheric publicity stunt could not help. 


Most movie publicity is often seen for what it is: puffery intended to break through the daily clutter of advertising that sometimes includes the outrageous or suspect claims of promoters, or in Schwarzenegger's case movie producers (he was executive producer and would have signed off on the stunt and the reported half-million dollar charge to his marketing budget). But, when it could be gratuitously adding distress to an already stressed population--in this case the homeless--you’ve got to wonder what’s going on? 

Allegations have been made by movie producer Eddie Farley, who is about to release his documentary about the homeless, that a local Starbucks indulges the homeless, who in turn may sexually harass customers, including one that allegedly has a temporary restraining order against the alleged harasser. “We are preparing a lawsuit against Starbucks” which, he says, makes customers feel “uncomfortable” at the Starbucks located at Wilshire and Detroit, in the Miracle Mile. “Running a de facto homeless service center (as commendable as the sentiment is) puts vulnerable victims in a direct path to harm” says Farley. He adds that “This issue is about "harassment" and Starbucks’ role in creating and nurturing an environment of sexual harassment.” 

CityWatch was independently unable to substantiate, by press time, any claims of or any reported allegations of harassment, or a restraining order, or a lawsuit. Farley declined a request by CityWatch for an interview with the explanation that "The studio has advised me not to comment.”  

The threatened lawsuit shows a different side of Farley who presents himself as solution-minded when it comes to the homeless issue, declaring “I have successfully worked with Walgreens and Krogers (Ralphs) in getting help to community members such as the homeless. I have successfully coordinated with the Metro to get people the help they need.” 

A July screening date for his recently shot documentary about the homeless has been announced. “My goal is to get community feedback to make any necessary adjustments before it airs”, says Farley. He has already received a lot of community feedback about his proposed lawsuit that may adjust those plans. 

With the right balance, and a non-sensationalist approach, Farley may be able to add to the conversation about the homeless with his documentary, just like a recent documentary about Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell’s “Skid Row Running Club” that used the traditional publicity route of being showcased at a film festival--the recent Los Angeles International Film Festival--where Mark Hayes won both the LA Muse Documentary Award, and the Audience Award for Documentary Feature Film for Skid Row Marathon which made its World Premiere at the Festival. 

Farley announced the movie and the lawsuit in separate social media posts several days ago. The response to the idea of a lawsuit were practically all unfavorable, many vehemently so, with some seeing the lawsuit as negatively portraying people with homelessness, such as the comment from a community member that “It's so sad to see homelessness criminalized and our local coffee shop threatened by a frivolous lawsuit. I don't believe this reflects the values of my neighborhood.” 

Farley’s public announcement and call-to-action is that “We are preparing a lawsuit against Starbucks. Have you felt that Starbucks on Wilshire and Detroit have a lot of homeless people inside? Have you felt uncomfortable by a few (specific) individuals? We would like to know if there are any more victims and individuals that have felt "uncomfortable". There is NO COST to you. We are handling all of the legal fees.” 

As the negative vibes to his proposed lawsuit became evident, there was a morphing of the narrative into emphasizing the defense of an unidentified individual that Farley alleges has been harassed inside the coffee shop by someone who is homeless, that is allegedly currently under a restraining order, but apparently likes to go to coffee where the “victim” is afraid of running into him or her. 

You could remove from the narrative the word “Starbucks”, although it’s a globally known brand name and gets headlines that add publicity value, and also “homeless” which is an emotional touchstone for many, and have a generic failure to obey a temporary restraining order, if that’s the case. It’s then a matter relating only to the “victim” and the “perp”--- which sounds like what this really is, and something that is routinely handled by LAPD when a victim protected by a TRO reports a violation to them. 

What could be behind all of this commotion and stirring up of such bad vibes against the homeless, as a class of people, and cause the community’s reprobation against Farley? Could this be his version of Schwarzenegger's rocket-ship stunt? Farley says “I’m not calling out an entire group of people (homeless). The pursuit is specific to policies and a unique situation. In this case, Starbucks policies or processes have created an environment that allows a specific individual to continue to harass ... whether it is intentional or otherwise ... that is what is yet to be determined.” 

The homeless are a vulnerable population that people tend to have genuine sympathy for as their tents and sidewalk shelters set up all over the city have made us become more sensitized to them and their struggles. Their lives are tough enough without being thrown into added drama. If this is an attempt at movie publicity, it has backfired as badly as Arnold Schwarzenegger's rocket-ship did.


(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)


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