A former Starbucks barista went viral on TikTok after claiming the coffee chain is getting rid of power outlets in stores to curb unhoused guests.
User Lizette (@rizbot) posted a nine-second clip of a covered outlet, elaborating on the issue in a text overlay. “For those who don’t know…starbucks is getting rid of its outlets that were once available for customers due to ‘safety concerns’ regarding the homeless,” she alleges.
Lizette calls out the popular coffee chain in another text overlay, claiming that its “third place” ideology is hypocritical given the alleged attempts to push out unhoused guests.
“After years of trying to be the “woke” coffee shop brand who supposedly accommodates the homeless, they said, ‘nah, we hate the homeless more than we like the billions of customers who come into our store simply to work on their laptops,’” she concluded.
@rizbot hey @Starbucks wayta expose yourselves. ☕️ #starbucks #homelessness #bayareatiktok #DrPepperTuitionContest #homelessnessawareness #anticapitalism ♬ Cool Kids (our sped up version) – Echosmith
Lizette clarified in the comments that outlets are only being removed on a store-by-store basis. She responded to a viewer questioning whether or not all locations would be impacted, “no but it’s been happening in places with high rates of homelessness. i’m in the bay area so i’ve seen it and heard about it from sbucks baristas.”
In 2018, Starbucks declared itself a safe haven for homeless people where they can sit in the store and use their bathrooms, per Gothamist. However, this led several stores to permanently shut their doors due to crime rates and safety issues.
In addition, around 20-25% of unhoused people in the U.S. experience mental illness, which can make it difficult for baristas to handle mental crises these guests may go through, according to NPR.
Lizette’s video has been viewed over 83,000 times as of Monday. In the comments section, several Starbucks workers shared experiences they’ve had with unhoused patrons in their stores.
“Yeah when I was a barista I definitely got attacked by a homeless person working once but the majority were sweet and I was happy to have there,” one person shared.
“i was a barista at 16 and there were definitely instances were i was over my head regarding homeless and unwell individuals,” a second stated.
“I worked at a Starbucks near an overpass and my shift leads called the cops multiple times a week on homeless people just for existing,” a third added.
Another formerly unhoused commenter claimed that they were once kicked out of a Starbucks location due to their housing status. “When I was homeless in Portland , OR, it was raining and I went into Starbucks, bought coffee, and sat in a corner away from everyone,” they said. “They told me I couldn’t be there and had to take my drink and leave. It was raining and cold and I just wanted a warm drink and to be comfortable for 10 minutes.
Lizette clarified her intentions of the video in the comments, noting that she did not experience safety concerns due to unhoused patrons during her time at the chain.
“Thanks to folks (esp. ex-baristas) for being smarter than me in the comments,” she wrote. “I made this tiktok without thinking and my frustration is actually toward the government and capitalism, and i carelessly neglected to consider baristas in my post.”
She continued, “I’m an ex-barista but didn’t have to deal with anything close to the folks in my comments. I’m embarrassed but wanna keep this up to educate others/hold myself accountable.”
However, other viewers suggested that the outlets were being removed to prevent customers, housed or unhoused, from sitting at tables for too long.
“The Starbucks around me capped their plugs because the middle schoolers would just wait there and charge w/o getting anything,” one user wrote.
“I mean I’m sure it also helps prevent people who take up tables for hours on end instead of finishing and moving on,” another suggested.
The Daily Dot reached out to Lizette via Twitter direct message and TikTok comment, as well as Starbucks via email.
Update 6:38pm CT Sept. 19: In a Twitter direct message interaction with the Daily Dot, Lizette explained that she first learned of the removal of outlets at a Starbucks location in Oakland, Calif., which an employee explained was due to the unhoused people at the store.
“The employee then pointed me to the long table along the window, where there were a few hidden outlets under the table that were almost impossible to use, both because of the angle and because they were very loose and facing the floor,” she explained of the remaining outlets.
After moving to Concord, Calif., she noticed another Starbucks location had also made its outlets inaccessible. This led her to do a Google search regarding Starbucks and homeless patrons.
“When you search ‘Starbucks homelessness,’ the first thing that comes up is a 2022 article published in Starbucks’ official ‘stories’ blog,” Lizette stated. “The headline: ‘‘We’re all one community’: Starbucks Outreach Worker Program supports safe and welcoming stores, addresses homelessness.’ I read this as an ironic statement attempting to brand Starbucks as a corporation that cares about the unhoused when it clearly does not.”
The creator also elaborated on her response to workers who shared their experiences interacting with unhoused guests at Starbucks.
“The video found many baristas and ex-baristas who shared their negative experiences with unhoused people coming into Starbucks, which is something I didn’t acknowledge in my very short video,” she wrote. “This left room for a lot of back and forth among commenters, and, while it was anxiety-inducing for a bit there, the discourse has been valuable and has taught me and hopefully others a lot.”
Lizette also noted that she plans to hit up local coffee shops rather than the coffee chain, due to their policies.
“While it definitely feels like a tiny step, I am excited to explore local coffee shops in my neighborhood rather than default to Starbucks and other chains,” she added. “I have also since researched and donated to organizations like the [National Alliance to End Homelessness] and Healthcare for the Homeless and will continue to urge my small online following to do the same.”
Additionally, the TikToker clarified that she believes the removal of power outlets from select Starbucks locations was not an intentional step to protect its employees.
“Do baristas, especially minors, deserve to be protected from disruptive people entering their workplace? Absolutely. It is not part of their (already underpaying) jobs to act as social workers,” Lizette wrote. “But is Starbucks, the hundred-billion–dollar corporation, really getting rid of outlets to protect their employees? The same employees whom Starbucks tries to prevent from unionizing? I don’t think so.”
“The government holds the most power when it comes to real, systemic reform to reduce homelessness, but in a capitalist society, corporations and the government are a double-headed monster,” she concluded.