In a statement published on Instagram last Friday, Caffe Vita owners Liz and Mike McConnell apologized for arguing in an email to employees that "giving away free food and drink without comprehensive services enables homelessness."
Following a protest last Wednesday and widespread criticism on social media, the owners claimed to be reviewing community feedback and said they can "do better." They also pledged to "remain committed to diversity and inclusion and...dedicated to proactively lifting up underrepresented community members, including our neighbors experiencing homelessness."
A group called Coffee Riot, which helped organize the protest after the company allegedly fired employees for giving away old pastries and coffee to homeless people, commended the McConnells for the work they've done "for the houseless community" and offered to "facilitate a dialogue regarding a proper and holistic response."
The group said they want to see "more concrete language" from the McConnells regarding the company's pastry waste policy, and added that Vita should be sure to include current and former employees in the conversation, as well as people experiencing homelessness and other Capitol Hill neighbors. They also expressed concern "with the way Vita handled the employees that were fired or resigned," citing a "lack of transparency in these incidents."
In a follow-up email to The Stranger, Liz McConnell admitted the employee handbook "did not list protocols for waste coffee or pastry," and said the company will develop a "clear and consistent policy" around those items "with the goal of making sure edible food and drink are rescued and given to those who need it."
McConnell added that she disagrees with the idea that giving food to homeless people enables homelessness. "I understand that the totality of those words and actions conflated these things, and fueled the misunderstanding that homelessness is a choice or a personal failing. I can’t tell you how much I regret that," she wrote. "The crux of the problem is a massive lack of affordable housing combined with a lack of funding for services and supports unique to each individual's needs."