You’ll Make Enemies Before You Make Friends

As I have said before, I walk everywhere I go in Silver Spring, because it gives me the opportunity to talk to homeless people as I go. If you want to start a homeless ministry, it’s the best chance you’ve got. Stop trying to do for them and ASK them what they need. You don’t want to spend a metric fuck tonne of money and THEN discover you’re going to the wrong direction. Today I needed to go to the 7-11 to get what my dad calls “road junk.” You know, mindless candy like peach rings and gummy cola bottles…

When I came out of the store, there were two people standing outside smoking with the look of homeless people (after a while, you can just tell when you know what you’re looking for), so of course I stopped to talk. I learned more in those ten minutes than I have in a long time. For instance, did you know that the homeless around here have actually seen Montgomery County employees putting the nicer jackets for the homeless into their cars and taking them home for themselves? They’ve also seen state employees throw crates of toiletry kits into the trash in order to get more money from the government. It’s all about money, especially when you can write off your constituents as crazy addicts.

Cookie told me that there are homeless people that think they manage the other homeless people and I said, “kind of like an unofficial mayor?” She said, “YES! I think I saw an episode of Criminal Minds that called ’em that.” Busted. Dana went through a Criminal Minds phase that lasted days. But anyway, those unofficial “mayors” make the women turn tricks and all sorts of other shady shit. I said that I was thinking about starting a homeless ministry here in Silver Spring, because I could not believe that all the shelters around here were closed from April to November. She said, “Vaya con Dios- you’re going to make enemies before you make friends.” I said, “I know. I’m not scared. I am the nicest person in the entire world until you cross me.” My eyes flashed with determination.

And I did make an enemy today…. but more on that later.

Most of the homeless people gather in the open living room around Discovery Center, so it hit me hard that the best way to minister to them was to go there. My idea is to do a sunrise service because we’d be less likely to get kicked out when there’s no one else awake, anyway. I asked Cookie if she knew BBQ, Stefon, and Rez. She did. I told her to tell them I said hello, and that I couldn’t wait to talk to her again about church outside, because I’m here to help. For the first time in our conversation, I saw a little light in her eyes that wasn’t there before. I wasn’t playing around. I KNEW homeless people, I wasn’t just giving lip service.

So what’s the first thing you need at a sunrise service? If you said anything but coffee, I do not know what planet you are from. Plus, the best advertising I could ever have for a church full of homeless people is “you have to get there early before the coffee runs out.” I started walking home, ruminating on how I was going to provide coffee for my congregation. I walked three blocks before God knocked my punk ass down. “Go to Starbucks,” God whispered. I turned around and walked back to the Metro station, because just past it is the Starbucks closest to the outdoor living room (I don’t know that the locals actually call it that, it just looks similar to the one in Portland, Oregon). I went in and ordered an iced redeye with cream, and asked to speak to the manager, Larry.

I said, “my name is Leslie Lanagan, and I am thinking about starting a homeless ministry in the Civic. I was wondering if you’d donate two boxes of coffee a week.” He said that Starbucks has a corporate donation line, and that I should call them. If they agreed, they’d send him an e-mail and tell him how to charge off the donations, because there’s no “donation” button on their cash register. Because I am ADD and I would never remember to do it later, I called them while I was there. That, ladies and gentlemen, is where the problem began.

I spent 15-20 minutes on hold before I actually got to speak to customer service. The guy on the other end of the phone said that Starbucks has it’s own donation program, so they couldn’t possibly give me coffee. My eyebrows started to go over my forehead. It’s two fucking boxes of coffee. What is their deal? I calmly said, “how does that directly affect my community in Silver Spring?” He said he didn’t know.


I said, “are you sure? I’m from Houston and there are lots of Starbucks that give coffee to non-profits and churches there.” He said he didn’t know how that was. I said, “you know, this is not the Starbucks I know. I know this call is being recorded, so if you’ll pass it up the food chain, I’d really appreciate it.” He said, “you mean YOU’RE recording the call?” I said no, that I’d worked in several help desks over my lifetime and I knew the call was being recorded on their end. Please make sure someone above you listens to it, because the Starbucks I know would never be stingy about two boxes of coffee a week.

So then I get off the phone and go back to Larry and tell him that corporate denied me. He told me that he would talk to his district manager and to call him on Wednesday. Let me say for the record that I made an enemy with corporate, and Larry is on my side to the degree that he agreed to ask. They didn’t have to say yes for me to be grateful for his courage in asking the question. I told him, “thank you so much, because in this situation, I don’t have any power……….. but you do.”

God’s countenance appeared in Larry’s eyes, as if my courage was feeding his. I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and Wednesday, but I know this.

I can’t wait to talk to Cookie again, because her premonition came true. I made an enemy before I made a friend.

And yet, I am still Leslie Lanagan, and I am here to help.


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