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Doing dignity at the Grace Café


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Doing dignity at the Grace Café an ethnographic exploration of a homeless outreach program
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Glover, Courtney A
University of South Florida
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ABSTRACT: Homeless outreach programs vary widely in their approaches to client treatment. At the Grace Café, an organization that serves daily meals to people who are homeless, the concept of dignity is central to guest treatment. According to the café's ideology, the importance of providing food is secondary to serving with dignity. This research explores dignity as an ideal of client treatment at the Grace Café. Based on ethnographic research, this paper explores how dignity is communicated to volunteers, implemented in service, and challenged at the Grace Café.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2008.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Courtney A. Glover.
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Doing dignity at the Grace Caf :
b an ethnographic exploration of a homeless outreach program
h [electronic resource] /
by Courtney A. Glover.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 53 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2008.
Includes bibliographical references.
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3 520
ABSTRACT: Homeless outreach programs vary widely in their approaches to client treatment. At the Grace Caf, an organization that serves daily meals to people who are homeless, the concept of dignity is central to guest treatment. According to the caf's ideology, the importance of providing food is secondary to serving with dignity. This research explores dignity as an ideal of client treatment at the Grace Caf. Based on ethnographic research, this paper explores how dignity is communicated to volunteers, implemented in service, and challenged at the Grace Caf.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Donileen Loseke, Ph.D.
Dissertations, Academic
x Sociology
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


Doing Dignity at the Grace Caf: An Ethnogra phic Exploration of a Homeless Outreach Program by Courtney A Glover A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Sociology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Doni leen Loseke, Ph.D. Margarethe Kusenbach, Ph.D. Maralee Mayberry, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 4, 2008 Keywords: institutions, sympathy, charity, homelessness, poverty, volunteer, dignity, organization, ethnography Copyright 2008, Courtney A Glover


i Table of Contents Abstract iii Chapter 1: Introduction 1 Chapter 2: Homelessness and Servi ce Provision to Homeless People 3 Defining and Exploring the Social Problem of Homelessness 3 Social Services 5 The Cultural Code of Individua lism and its Relation to So cial Service Provision 7 Variations in Soci al Service Agencies for the Homeless 9 Chapter 3: Methods and Setting 12 Methods 12 Reflections 13 My Role at the Grace Caf 13 Access and Immersion 14 My Expectations 16 The Setting: Grace Caf 17 People 19 Daily Functioning 20 Chapter 4: Findings: The Message of Dignity at the Grace Cafe 22 The Message of Dignity : Official Rhetoric and Caf Policies 23 The Message of Dignity: Teaching New Volunteers 24 The Message of Dignity: Ta lk and Behavior of Committed Volunteers 27 Chapter 5: Findings: Disjunctures Between Ideals and Practices 31 Disjunctures Between Id eals and Practice: Service and Beverages 31 Disjunctures Be tween Ideals and Practice: Tickets 33 Disjunctures Between Ideal s and Practice: Uncommitted Volunteers 37 Disjunctures Between Ideals and Practice: The Eighth Chair 40 Keeping the Faith: Repairing th e Disjunctures Between Ideo logy and Practice 42


ii Chapter 6: Discussion and Conclusion 48 References 52


iii Doing Dignity at the Grace Caf: An Ethnographic Exploration of a Homeless Outreach Program Courtney Glover ABSTRACT Homeless outreach programs vary widely in their approaches to client treatment. At the Grace Caf, an organization that serv es daily meals to people who are homeless, the concept of dignity is central to guest treatment. A ccording to the caf’s ideology, the importance of providing food is secondary to serving with dignity. This research explores dignity as an ideal of client tr eatment at the Grace Caf. Based on ethnographic research, this paper explores how dignity is communicated to volunteers, implemented in service, and challenged at the Grace Caf.


1 Chapter 1: Introduction Homelessness is a problem for millions of people in the United States. While the existence of homelessness as a social problem is not a matter of dispute, researchers are divided on defining the causes and solutions to this problem. Some researchers describe homelessness as a problem of social structur e. Social policy, the lack of affordable housing, and the absence of well-paid employment are all structural forces that can be cited to explain the problem of homelessness. From this perspective, those who fall to the bottom are the victims of an unfortunate intersection of soci al structure and life circumstances. On the other hand, the preva iling tendency is to describe homelessness as the result of individual deficiencies. Resear chers cite high incident s of substance abuse and mental illness among the homeless population. From this perspective, those who fall to the bottom of our society are there because of personal pathologies and/or choice. The prevalence of this individual deficien cy perspective is consistent with our society’s emphasis on individualism. In a sy stem where people ar e held individually responsible for their success and failure, it is assumed that those who do not succeed have done something wrong. Sympathy is not avai lable for people who are evaluated as personally responsible for their situations. It follows that most agencies serving homeless people offer discipline and reform, not sympathy. However, this is not always the case. I


2 conducted research at the Grace Caf,1 an organization that emphasizes dignity and respect instead of discipline and reform. The Grace Caf is a non-denominational religious program that serves meals to homeless people five days a week. F ounded in 2001, the caf operates under the supervision of a board of cor porate and political leaders. The daily functioning of the caf relies on a combination of regular, committed volunteers and a revolving base of volunteers who come from churches, local universities, or to fulfill court mandated community service. My research at the Grace Caf is ethnogr aphic. Therefore, my primary research purpose is to explore the daily functioning of this organization. Specifically, because the emphasis at the caf is dignified service, how is an image of dignity constructed at the caf, and how is this image maintained in th e face of contradictor y everyday practice? To place the research questions into contex t, I will first review the literature on the problem of homelessness and the social services serving peopl e who are homeless. Then I will describe my method and findings at the caf, focusing on the concept of dignity and how it is applied to service. Returning to the la rger problem of homelessness, I will explore how my findings fit within the im age of the provision of social services to homeless people. 1 In order to conceal the identity of the organization, its volunteers, and its guests, pseudonyms are used for all individuals, and the organization itself. Additiona lly, all other geographically identifying details have been omitted


3 Chapter 2: Homelessness and Servi ce Provision to Homeless People In order to situate my research, I wi ll examine the literature defining and examining the social problem of homelessness, and the provision of social services to homeless people. Then I will explore how th is fits into the cultural context of individualism and its consequences. Defining and Exploring the So cial Problem of Homelessness It seems as if it would be relatively easy to define homelessness. At its base, homeless is simply a condition of “being wit hout a home.” Yet social researchers do not find it so simple to define the topic. Fo r example, Anthony Marcus (2006) asked “Who are the homeless, really?” and spent the first chapter of his book expounding on the difficulty answering this question. While he never actually answered the question, explicitly his sample was people living in shelters. While other researchers (Leibow, 1993; Marvesti, 2003; Spencer 1994) likewise narrow their c onceptualization of “the homeless” to shelter clients, still others incl ude people living in shel ters as well as those living on the streets (Dordic k, 1997; Timmer, et al 1994). Another approach to the problem of conceptualizing “the homeless” is found in a footnote in Wagner’s book, Checkerboard Square He addresses the problem of de fining “the homeless” and feels that, because he studied indivi duals who frequent a small ar ea serving as a networking spot for homeless people, his sample would be tter be described as “street people.” Yet this complicated his resear ch: “Although I use this term [street people], for more theoretical and comparative statements I re turn to the term homeless and the recent


4 literature on homelessness since street person is still a very imprecise term and remains less recognized as a social sc ience term” (Wagner,1993:20). What emerges from this confusion in defi ning who is “homeless” is evidence that researchers are not describing an objective condition, because a definition of who “the homeless” are cannot be agreed upon. Inst ead, researchers are focusing on a “type” of person, and dis-embodied “types” of people do no t necessarily translate easily into reallife experiences (Loseke, 2007). In this way, research is not really about the condition of homelessness, it is about the people who are homeless. This leads to the most common ques tion asked in the literature about homelessness: Why are people homeless? For sociologists, homelessn ess is a structural problem (Breakey, 1997; Leibow, 1993; Snow and Anderson, 1993; Timmer, 1994) created by the absence of well-paid employment the limited availability of low-income housing (McCasney, 1990), and government polic ies (Shlay and Rossi, 1992). Yet this sociological focus is quite uncommon in the literature, which primarily attends to examining the individual causes of the conditi on of homelessness. A considerable body of literature has been dedicated to explor ing the prevalence of a history of childhood poverty, instability, and abuse among the homeless (Bassuk et al., 1997; Susser, Struening, & Conover, 1987). This is an in stance of ‘blaming the victim.’ Although individuals may be homeless because of ch ildhood trauma, and therefore out of one’s control, the problems of poverty are still seen as existing insi de them, not as a result of external structure. Further research explor es what characteristics are most likely present in an individual who remains homeless, and in an individual who will move out of


5 homelessness. Again, this assumes that homelessness is an individual problem. (Morrell-Ballai and Boydell, 2000). Focusing on individuals, the dominant tendency among Americans in general as well as in academic work is to conceptualize homelessness as a result of individual pathologies or choice (for a full review, see Shlay and Rossi 1992). It is very common, therefore, to see homelessness conceptuali zed as a consequence of mental illness and substance abuse, although whet her these are a cause or cons equence of homelessness is sometimes questioned (Fischer, et al, 1986; Wright and Weber, 1987). Research from this perspective is abundant, creating an image of homelessn ess as a condition caused by problems of dysfunctional individuals. Social Services Schneider and Ingram (1993) discuss the relationship between the social construction of target populations and the implementation of public policy. They illustrate how the social construction of “type s” of people as “good and moral” or “bad and immoral” has a strong impact on the natu re of policies directed toward the actual people in these groups. Positively construc ted, powerful groups, for example, are often the target of positive, beneficial policy. Examples include policy directed toward the elderly or veterans. On the other hand, public officials are pressure d to “devise punitive, punishment-oriented policy for negatively constructed groups” (334). For instance, rehabilitation programs directed toward dr ug users or criminals include many rules of behavior and violations of th ese rules carry heavy sanctions. Academic literature on homelessness largely depicts “the homeless” as deficient and personally responsible for th eir situation. Given this, it is expected that researchers


6 have found that many programs for homeless peop le can be characteri zed as punitive and reformative. People who are seen as responsib le for their troubles, predictably, do not get respect. For example, when discussing narrative constructions of “t he homeless” at a shelter, Amir Marvasti (2003) found a common theme among workers: They all saw the situation of clients as a resu lt of personal failures (110). The evaluation of clients as deficient individuals translated into a remedi al attitude towards the homeless. Marvasti notes: “It is evident that “discipline” and “lea rning one’s lesson” are intended goals of the shelter policies…” (95). Marvas ti found that clients at the shelter were not evaluated according to their needs, but on their complian ce with shelter policies, and the main focus at the shelter was changing clients. This makes sense: Schneider and Ingram (1993) describe policy directed toward powerless, ne gatively evaluated populations as punitive. In social services oriented toward the homeless, clients are expected to comply with the rules and to “pay,” or be punished, for their situation. Rebecca Anne Allahyari (2000) found a si milar theme at The Salvation Army, where clients were regarded as “morally su spect” (99). This eval uation of clients is evident in the shelters rules: residents were prohibited from drinking, drugs, violence and stealing. An 11pm curfew was strictly enfor ced. At The Salvation Army, “the homeless” are a group of people who need to be cont rolled. Accordingly, The Salvation Army emphasized rehabilitation and redemption throug h sobriety and hard work. The Salvation Army is a strong example of how pathological de pictions of “the homeless” translate into remedial, disparaging treat ment of homeless clients.


7 Likewise, in his research at a homeless assistance program at River City, Spencer (1997) found that an individua listic evaluation of “the hom eless” meant that people seeking service were expected to prove th ey were “service wort hy” in order receive assistance. This required clie nts to cast themselves simulta neously as not responsible for their situation, and as “taking res ponsibility” for getting themselves out of their situation (161). Spencer found that prospective clients seemed to understand this and framed their stories in line with such expectations. Sp encer’s work illustrates the strength of the cultural expectations of homeless people: Homeless pe ople are aware of common constructions of “the homeless” as deficient people. They know that to get assistance, they must prove that they deserve services. The Cultural Code of Individualism and its Relation to Social Service Provision Individualism, according to Bellah and co lleagues, “lies at the very core of American culture” (1985, 142). Americans live their lives, fail, succeed, and are evaluated on an individual ba sis. The power of the cultura l code of individualism can be seen clearly in how Americans judge sympathyworthiness. According to Clark, (1987) the giving and receiving of sympat hy is subject to an elaborate set of rules. In order to claim sympathy, individuals must be evalua ted as morally worthy and not complicit for their plight. The codes of individualism and the rules governing sympathy are pervasive themes; the power of individualism can be seen in how Americans judge sympathy worthiness. For example, Loseke (1995) illu strated that in order to be evaluated as “deserving,” poor people must be evaluated as experienci ng, through no fault of their own, a temporary condition, and be evaluate d as actively working to improve their


8 condition. So, for example, when people on welfare are depicted as “lazy” people who accept government “handouts,” they are crit icized and receive no sympathy or its behavioral expression of help. Given beliefs that homelessness is created by individual behaviors, homeless people also receive litt le sympathy or help. “The homeless” are simply another example of how the relati onship between individualism and sympathy plays out. Evaluated as individuals, homeless people are “failures.” In academic literature and in cultural portrayals, “the homeless” are frequently depicted as lazy, mentally ill, substance abusers, and so on. Due to the pr imacy of individualistic explanations of homelessness, structural analyses of homelessness are often cast aside. In their failure to overcome their problems, homeless people are deficient. When social researchers, and the general American public, view homelessness as a result of personal failure, homeless people can easily be evaluated as “undeserving” of sympathy and help. Instead, many social se rvice agencies treat homeless people as problematic and in need of control. This is, after all, what many peopl e think ‘they’ need. Remedial programs fit well into Loseke’s (1997 ) analysis of how the morality of charity is constructed: with worthy clients, be nevolent volunteers, and without disturbing the capitalist order. The treatment homeless cl ients receive in remedial social service agencies makes sense, and the morality of these institutions is easily defended within this paradigm. Although this picture fits together nicely, this is not the whole story. Not all service agencies follow the remedial model of offering services to people who are homeless.


9 Variations in Social Service Agencies for the Homeless In the sections above, I c onstructed a consistent pict ure of relationships among individualism, homelessness and social serv ice agencies. Research about homelessness focuses on homeless people, and describes high rates of personal pathologies, such as mental illness and substance abuse, among ho meless individuals. In our culture of individualism, the conclusion is clear: homeless people are defi cient individuals. Therefore, they need to be punished, contro lled and repaired. As I have demonstrated, there are many social service agencies that do this. However, while this is prevalent, other social service agencies complicate this relationship. In addition to her research at The Salvation Army, Allahyari (2000) also conducted research at Loaves and Fishes, a Cath olic charity in the same city. There she found a completely different “v ision of charity.” Instead of condemnation and control, clients were treated with mercy. Indeed, acco rding to Allahyari, Loaves and Fishes does not serve “clients,” it serves “guests,” with a goal not to reform guest s, but to serve them with grace and dignity. Absent are discussions of how to fi x the homeless. There are no rules, no discipline, and no punishment. Guests do not need to prove they are worthy of sympathy and assistance. Loaves and Fishes and The Salvation Army serve the same clients in the same city, but do so in very different ways. This relates to how homeless clients are viewed. At The Salvation Army, and other service ag encies, clients are “morally suspect” and therefore expected to prove their worthiness and to earn the assistance they receive through hard work and discipline. At Lo aves and Fishes, A llahyari (2000) found constructions of clients as “worthy” or “unwor thy” to be notably abse nt. Attention is not


10 given to constructing an image of the client, but rather to constructing an image of the service provided. Loaves and Fishes is evid ence that remedial, puniti ve social services may be common, but other approaches do exist. The unique approach to service provided by Loaves and Fishes is particularly importa nt, according to Miller and Keys’s (2001) research. With the premise of Snow and Anderson’s (1993) findings that the need for meaning and self-worth are equally as impor tant as survival n eeds, Miller and Keys explored the concept of dignity in the lives of people who are homeless. In interviews with 24 homeless people, Miller and Keys f ound several external ev ents that influence individual senses of dignity. These ev ents, often provided by outreach programs, enhanced individual feelings of self worth. Given these fi ndings, the servi ce provided by Loaves and Fishes is more than just an exception to the usual treatment of homeless people. The service found at Loaves and Fishes is possibly an important positive force in the lives of homeless people, but it is sti ll limited to the level of the individual. Despite the notable exception of Loaves and Fishes, I began my own research at the Grace Caf as a sociology student. I was crit ical of individualistic solutions to social problems, and expected to find a punitive or ganization engaged in placing blame and trying to reform homeless client s. I chose the Grace Caf as a research site, not to learn about the caf itself, but to an alyze the construction of “the homeless” in this particular setting. What I emerged with was completely different. I found my initial focus to be unobtainable because I could not describe the co nstruction of “the homeless” at the Grace Caf, because people at the caf did not genera lly talk about clients, and volunteers’ days did not leave time to speak with homeless peop le themselves. Instead, volunteers and organizers talked about pr oviding quality service with an emphasis on treating guests


11 with dignity and respect. Finding this, my research que stion shifted. Instead of evaluating the construction of clients at the caf e, I explore how the c oncept of dignity is framed and sustained at the Grace Caf.


12 Chapter 3: Methods and Setting Methods My primary data set consists of ethnogra phic fieldnotes collect ed over a period of 3 months. I volunteered at the caf 10 times and stayed for about 3 hours each time, writing approximately 60 single-spaced pages of fieldnotes. I spent eight of my ten visits serving tables upstairs. On two of my visits, I worked taking tickets at the gate downstairs, where guests were admitted to the caf. My experiences at the two locations were quite different. When I worked upstair s, many of my fieldnotes are focused on the time spent before and after service, because th e actual time I spent serving was repetitive and forgettable. In order to maximize the before and after time, I arrived at least 45 minutes before service began and st ayed through the clean-up period. On the other hand, my fieldnotes on the da ys I was downstairs at the entry gate are rich from beginning to end. During these ti mes, I could talk to and interact with caf guests, in contrast to the quick and rushed time I spent serving them upstairs. Additionally, I had time with the volunteer I was working wi th, giving me an opportunity to hear their reflections, opinions of and experiences at the caf. I left a pad of paper in my car for jotti ng immediately after leaving the caf, when necessary. Because jottings were impractical while inside the caf, I learned to rely on car jottings and on the immediacy of writing my fieldnotes. My fiel dnotes were written immediately when I arrived home from the caf.


13 Also included in my data is information from the caf’s website, which includes details about the caf, volunt eer testimonials, and the caf ’s mission statement. In addition, I have information from the caf’ s quarterly newsletters, which are posted online and distributed at the caf. Reflections My Role at the Grace Caf Conducting research as a participant/obs erver, it was important to pay close attention to my personal characteristics a nd biases, and the effect these had on my research process and outcomes. As a white woman, I was more similar to volunteers at the caf than to guests, who were primarily me n, and often black. It is possible that these characteristics could have been a force be hind the shift in my focus from guests to volunteers. While the effects of my ge nder and race on my research experience are subtle, in contrast, I became acutely and unexpectedly aware of how being a young college student affected my research. Most volunteers my age at the caf are college students, and many guests and volunteers correctly assumed that I was from the local university. Volunteers at the caf are divided between regular and sp oradic, and volunteers from the university comprise a large portion of the sporadic gr oup. Therefore, as a young college student, I was faced with the task of overcoming the expectation that I would not appear on a regular basis or become involved to any degree at the caf. This was an issue of access. These expectations also affected my ex it from the caf. Because I felt I was expected to be unreliable and uncommitted, I took care to exit slowly. Instead of simply disappearing, I informed volunteers and coordi nators that I would be coming less often.


14 Although I no longer volunteer on a regular basi s, I still retu rn periodically, and make sure I always come when I say I will. Access and Immersion Acquiring access to conduct re search at the caf was a relatively straightforward process. I contacted Ben, th e volunteer coordinator. Ben and the caf’s board of directors approved my research, which en abled me to acquire approval from my university’s Institutional Review Board (I RB). In accordance with IRB guidelines, I disclosed my research to those I worked with at the caf. Although the process of ga ining access to the caf was straightforward, the process of gaining access to data that were rich and relevant was much more complex. When describing the fieldwor ker’s goal, the authors of Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes stress immersion: The ethnographer seeks a deeper immersion in others’ worlds in order to grasp what they experience as m eaningful and important. With immersion, the field researcher sees from the inside how pe ople lead their lives, how they carry out their daily rounds of activities, what th ey find meaningful, and how they do so. (Emerson,, 1995:2) Achieving this vision of immersion was a daunt ing goal, particularly given the limitations of my research. My opportuni ties for participant observation were limited to one or two visits per week, for the short period of time that the caf operated. Additionally, volunteers at the caf are generally divided between those who appear regularly and those who appear sporadically With the goal of immersion, it was important for me to break out of my perceived role as a sporadic volunt eer. In achieving th is end, there were two things in particular that worked well for me.


15 I met Butch on my first visit to the caf, which was his second day. He immediately became heavily involved at th e caf, volunteering five days a week. Because of his dedication and outgoing pe rsonality, Butch quickly became acquainted with most regular volunteers and guests. He was also very interested in my research, and eager to participate. Butch volunteered to ta lk with me, and we spent the day together, sitting by the river, feeding ducks, and walking through the downtown area. From that point on, we became close and he helped me make contacts among volunteers and homeless guests. He also kept me informed of current events and i ssues at the caf, and was a very useful source of information in general. My friendship with Butch was very importa nt, particularly in light of how some ‘regular’ volunteers viewed and treated voluntee rs from the university. According to Lofland and colleagues (2006), one strategy to ga ining access in the field is to “identify key gatekeepers and develop ties with them ” (42). Butch represented the gatekeeper between me and the ‘regula r’ volunteers, and developi ng a tie with him was one important step toward ethnographic immersion. My second point of entry was Dusty, the head busser. Dusty works four days a week with the day’s coordinator to get the caf ready for service. He is also in charge of cleaning up the dining room after the day’s service. One day, I decided to stay and help Dusty sweep and mop the floors, the final task of the day. This brought surprising results: Dusty and I are done sweeping, and I ask hi m if there’s anything else I can do. He says no, and he thanks me profusely for my help. As I’m getting ready to leave, the caf is almost empty. I sa y goodbye to Linda and start to head for the elevator. Dusty calls after me, “Come back soon!” It is amazing to me the re action I got from Dusty simp ly after helping him sweep. I think this is a product of the many vol unteers cycling through the caf: in order


16 for some to bother talking to me, they need a reason – the fact that I’m there isn’t enough. (Fieldnotes V) From this point on, Dusty greeted me with a handshake every week. With Dusty’s sponsorship, I also was treated with respect by other regular volunteers who previously had ignored me. Helping well beyond the time that most other volunteers left set me apart, and facilitated my acceptance into the ‘inner’ gr oup of the caf. My Expectations I began my research at the Grace Caf with a set of expectations. In my mind was a Salvation Army model of homeless outreac h, where clients are treated as deficient individuals in need of repair. This is what I expected to find at the Grace Caf. Because the caf is a religious organi zation, I also expected that religion would be pushed onto guests and onto me. These expectations were inaccurate. I found the caf to be a much different organization than what I anticipate d, and the direction of my research changed accordingly. In her article “Grounded Theory,” Kat hy Charmaz describes grounded theory as a research methodology where data collection and analysis have a strong, cyclical relationship: Simultaneous involvement in data colle ction and analysis means that the researcher’s emerging analysis shapes his or her data collecti on procedures. Such simultaneous involvement focuses grounded theory studies and thus not only directs the researcher’s efforts, but also fosters his or her taking control of the data. The early analytic work leads the researcher subsequently to collect more data around emerging themes and questions. (2000:336) With an emphasis on a relationship between da ta collection and anal ysis, I was able to respond to differences between what I expected and what I found. I originally came to the Grace Caf to explore the narrative cons truction of the homeless identity, through the


17 volunteers and guests at the caf. However, th is was not the story to ld at the cafe. I found that volunteers do not talk about the guests; they talk about themselves and one another. As a volunteer at the caf, opportunities for inter action with homeless guests are limited. Instead of stories by and about the homeless, what emerged was a story of the organizational and rhetorical st ructure of the caf itself, w ith a focus on the quality of service provided to the clients. This is the story told in my fieldnotes. By maintaining an analytical perspective of my data, I was able to turn my attention to what was most compelling at the caf. My research findi ngs, therefore, are a result of the grounded theory methodology. The Setting: Grace Caf In October, 2001, the Grace Caf began se rving meals 5 days a week. As a nonprofit organization, the caf relies on grants donations and sponsor ships for its funding. Unsurprisingly, budget concerns are constant. The caf is governed by a board of directors, comprised of corporate executives and one state repres entative. The caf occupies the second floor in a building owned by the Salvation Army. As part of this arrangement, The Salvation Army does not have to worry about serving meals because volunteers and clients are se nt up to eat at the caf. Although the roles of both organizations are clear, relations between the two are strained, and vol unteers at the caf say this has always been the case, a lthough no one sufficiently explained why. The caf is a non-denominational, faithbased ministry. While religion is a central theme in th e caf’s conceptual construct, it is not an essential component of daily functioning. Religion appears in the caf’s official rhet oric, such as its mission statement, its quarterly newsletter, and its website. Before each service, volunteers


18 ‘circle up’ for announcements and a prayer. Re ligion is a frequent topic of conversation among volunteers, particularly when discus sing reasons for volunteering. However, strong religious orientation is not necessarily an expected ch aracteristic of volunteers. I am not religiously oriented, and I expected this to be a point of di scomfort while serving at the caf. However, I found that aside from bowing my head during prayer, I could avoid religious activity wit hout sacrificing full partic ipation at the caf. The caf’s aim is to serve quality me als to “the homele ss and hungry” in a restaurant setting. The caf’s physical aspects are designed to represent this mission. The dining room is set up to conve y the image of a restaurant: The dining area is a small room with ma ny windows. The room fits eight round tables with an aisle in the middle. The tables were set with checkered tablecloths, silverware wrapped in paper napkins, sa lt, pepper, and large cylindrical squirt bottles filled with hot sauce. In the middle of each table is a display of artificial flowers and a tall sign with the table numb er. The ‘drink station’a counter with two tea urns, a bus tub full of ice, and stack s of plastic cups – is on the right side of the room, next to a window leading to the dishwasher. To the left are doors marked enter and exit and two large free-standing shelves, where guests drop their bags on their way in. (Fieldnotes I) The walls of the dining room are decorated with framed quotes such as “We should live our lives as if Christ were coming this afte rnoon. – Jimmy Carter.” The quotes mirror the caf’s themes of service, charity, and co mpassion, and authors range from Mother Theresa to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. Moral messages, such as “Love one another,” and “Respect your fellow man” appear as graffiti on walls in the bathrooms, and outside the caf. Like the restaurant-sty le layout, these messages reinforce the caf’s emphasis on dignity and respect.


19 Meals are served upstairs, but guests2 spend the majority of their time waiting outside to be let in. When service begins, guests are le t in through a chain link fence downstairs. They move up a ramp and wait outside a door leading to the caf. Aside from moral graffiti on the walls, the outside area is bare. People Freddie, the chef, is the caf’s only fu ll-time paid employee. There are a few part-time employees, who help Freddie set up in the morning and clean up after meals have been served. Service itself is run by volunteers, who are largely white and appear middle-class in dress. The caf has ma ny regular volunteers, many of whom have volunteered with the caf for several years. There is a coordinator every day, who is also a volunteer. Aside from the regulars, the caf relies on a consta ntly changing volunteer base, which includes students from the lo cal universities, chur ch volunteer groups, volunteers from other sources in the area, such as local companies, and other individuals, some of whom volunteer to fulfill community service requirements. Volunteers at the caf are sorted mainly into bussers and se rvers. One volunteer, Dusty, is head busser Tuesday through Friday, a nd is in charge of organizing the bussers, who are almost always men. Homeless caf guests are welcome to volunteer, and they are always assigned to bus, never to serve. On the other hand, non-homeless volunteers are usually assigned to se rve, but the men may be asked to bus if Dusty is short on bussers that day: When we circle up and are being told th e menu, Travis finds that we don’t have enough bussers. He asks Mark if either of the men in his volunteer group would be willing to bus. One says yes. Th e other (George), a young man with light 2 Diner volunteers referred to those who ate in the diner using several different terms, including guests, customers, and ‘the homeless and hungr y.’ I will use the term guests, simply because that is the word I heard used most often.


20 brown skin and dark hair, wearing a sm all backpack and constantly holding the hand of his girlfriend, says no. (Fieldnotes VIII) The majority of the caf’s guests are men. Guests range widely in age, from early twenties to quite elderly. Every week, voluntee rs were informed that special portions are available for children, but I never saw a child eat at the caf. Many guests appeared regularly, and were familiar wi th one another and with regu lar volunteers at the caf. These guests would sit together and talk, but there were al so guests who would sit with their heads down and eat silently. Guests and volunteers at the caf vary from regular to unfamiliar, but the daily procedure at the caf is pred ictable and repetitive, due to a strong emphasis on routine and order. Daily Functioning The caf’s organizational structure allows it to function smoothly on a daily basis. Regular volunteers and coordinato rs uphold this structure, wh ich new volunteers are able to pick up quickly. The daily functioning of the caf changed little over the period of time I spent there. Most volunteers arrive at the caf around 11: 15 am. At this time, we circle up for announcements and prayer, and service begins shortly afterwards. Volunteers are assigned to tables in pairs when possible, and the coordinator makes an effort to pair new and experienced volunteers together. Voluntee rs are responsible for serving each course to the guests at their table, as well as keeping drinks and bread baskets full. After circling up, volunteers wait for their tables to be filled. To gain entrance to the cafe, guests n eed a ticket are handed out between 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., the caf opens, a nd a volunteer from the caf lets guests in


21 through a gate downstairs. At the gate, the vol unteer takes the guests’ tickets, and they move upstairs and wait again, this time outside of a door leading directly into the dining room, where they are let in as space becomes available. Guests are seated seven to a table, and each guest receives a glass of tea to begin. After their first glass of tea, guests’ glasse s are refilled with water. Bread is unlimited and served from a basket in the center of th e table. The meals, which volunteers refer to as “dinner,” are served in courses, beginning with soup or salad, followed by a main course, and finished with dessert. The meals are plentiful, and always include meat or fish, a starch, and vegetables. Desert ma y be candy, cookies, or cake, accompanied by fresh seasonal fruit. After they eat, guests are welcome to stay as long as they like, but most leave as soon as they are done, commonly taking their de sert with them. Se rvice ends at 12:30 and volunteers are encouraged to grab a plate of food and eat in the dining room. Some volunteers sit together, others sit with guests remaining in the dining room. While volunteers and guests finish their meals, othe r volunteers such as Dusty work on cleaning up the dining room, while Freddie cleans up the kitchen. Everything is taken off the tables, which are wiped down. When everyone has finished eating, the dining room is swept and mopped. Volunteers are not generally asked to participate in this process, and most leave when they have finished their meal. Dusty and other core volunteers, on the other hand, do not leave until the dining room is clean.


22 Chapter 4: Findings: The Message of Dignity at the Grace Cafe The Grace Caf serves food to homeless guests five days a week. Meals are bountiful; many guests fill up before desert and leave with leftovers. The meals are so large they could easily provide a full day’s subs tance. The importance of this service is illustrated by the men and women who line the streets every morning, waiting for the caf to open. The daily appearance of many regular guests is another indicator of the import these daily meals hold in guests’ lives. Th e value of food, provided in ample quantities, therefore should not be discounted. Yet, while the importance of the food at the Grace Caf is o bvious, this simple morality is underemphasized. The emphasis at the cafe is not food, but on serving highquality food in a warm manner with a focus on dignity. An example of this appears in the Fall, 2007 Newsletter: At Grace Caf, we feed one person at a time Chef Freddie, a five-star culinary expert, personally prepares each plate a nd expects nothing less than excellence. There are not “assembly line” approaches! Soup is not served until the guest is welcomed, and seated. There are periodic thermometer checks by the chef to make sure that each bowl is served at precisely his specifications (Grace Caf Newsletter, Fall 2007 ) This same message re-appears in the Summer newsletter: We serve a well balanced meal to our gue sts at Grace Caf. However, our greater mission is creating an atmosphere and e nvironment that nurtures love, care and dignity. (Grace Caf Newsletter, Summer 2007 )


23 In brief, the primary service provided by Grace Caf is not the provision of food; it is the dignified manner in which food is served. As Loseke (1997) notes, “Charity achi eves morality through productions of its kindly treatment of its clients” (435). At the Grace Caf, this is achieved by an emphasis on dignity. The concept of ‘dignity’ was used to embody the caf’s standard of service. References to dignity permeated the caf’s ne wsletter and website, and also appeared in daily conversation. In the page s that follow, I will describe the concept of dignity, its appearance in the caf’s rhetoric, and how volunteers applied dign ity to their daily service. Then, I will explore common viola tions of the dignity message, and how these violations were kept from unraveling the dignity concept. The Message of Dignity: Offici al Rhetoric and Caf Policies The message of dignity appears clearly in the caf’s official rhetoric, such as in the examples above from newsletters stressing the dignified service provided to guests. Another example appears on the caf’s website, where anyone seeking information about the caf, including a potentia l volunteer, is directed: We serve free meals to homeless, poor a nd anyone wishing to receive a meal. The meals are prepared by a professional chef and served by volunteer waiters. The guests sit at cloth covered tables set with china dishes and silverware. They are asked for nothing in return no mandator y religious services or counseling or work… Grace Caf is a place of love, comp assion, and dignity… a true lifeline to those in need. (Organization website) Such official statements emphasize the importan ce of dignified service. With references to cloth covered tables, china, and silverware, the application of dignity in the structure of the caf is made explicitly clear. Further, according to the quote, the Grace Caf is not a program seeking to reform its clients. Rath er, an essential component of the dignity message is that guests “are as ked for nothing in return.”


24 While the message of dignity appears repeatedly in the caf’s official publications, these publications al so make clear that dignity is not simply a rhetorical buzzword. The expectation is that the digni ty message will be practiced throughout the organization on a daily basis: It [Grace Caf] is an organization that doe s things right and in a first-class way. There are never moments when the mission of Grace Caf dissolves. Every volunteer, every supporter, and every gue st believes it. The mission is not preached. The mission is practice d. (Grace Caf Newsletter, Fall 2007 ) Explicit in this message is the expectation th at all volunteers partic ipate in the provision of dignity to caf guests. This expectat ion is communicated to volunteers through the caf’s website, and also through dail y announcements to volunteers. These announcements, communicated during ‘circle ti me’ before each day’s service, comprise the second level of the emphasis on dignity. The Message of Dignity: Teaching New Volunteers The dignity message, stated clearly in th e caf’s official rhetoric, is transmitted daily to volunteers through statements from th e coordinators. This is the sec ond level of the communication of the dignity message. Ev ery day at the Grace Caf begins with all the volunteers joining in a circle for the day’s announcements. Because so many volunteers each day will be new, the day’s c oordinator describes the caf’s functioning, while emphasizing the expectation that volunteers will provide dignified service. For example, Travis, Friday’s coordinator, pr epares volunteers for the upcoming lunch: Travis begins his announcements by we lcoming everyone and thanking us for being here. He says “Here at the Grace Caf, we feed the hungry. We are not a soup kitchen; we don’t rush people in and out We are a dignified caf.” He tells us that Grace Caf is a Christian faith-ba sed ministry, but people of all different faiths serve here. He tells us: “There is an eighth chair at every table, where we sit and join our guests while they eat. We call them our guests, because that’s


25 what they are. They are guests in ou r restaurant.” ‘We say sir and ma’am, because we are happy to see our guests. We welcome them with open arms, and this is a blessing because not many people are happy to see our guests. We are. This is because we want to be an island of hope in the misery of their culture.’ (Fieldnotes IV) In this example, the emphasis on dignity encompasses all aspects of service. For example, in accordance with the dignity messa ge, people who come to the caf to eat are called ‘guests,’ “because that’s what they ar e.” Notice also how Travis does not present dignity as a “suggestion” to volunteers, rather this is simply how things are done A similar message was given during circle time by Gene, Thursday’s coordinator: After thanking everyone for coming, Gene be gins his speech: Grace Caf is a non-denominational program with a divine mission. We provide meals to the hungry and homeless. We serve with dignity and patience. Our tables have eight chairs, but we only seat seven. The eighth chair is for us to sit and chat, if we have time. We offer an ear – these peopl e may never have anyone to talk to. We can’t solve their problems but we can give them someone to talk to. (Fieldnotes V) In the coordinators’ daily messages, the official rhetoric of the caf is transmitted to volunteers. For example, the official caf rh etoric emphasizes that, consistent with the dignity message, the Grace Caf is not a reme dial program. Similarly, in an above quote, Travis contrasts Grace Caf with a soup kitc hen by emphasizing dignity. Dignity is used on both levels to construct the caf as a di fferent kind of organization that is more humane than other services for homeless people. A further example of the link between th e dignity message presented by the caf’s official rhetoric and by the caf’ s coordinators is the use of symbols to exemplify dignity. In the official rhetoric, these symbols includ e tablecloths, china, s ilverware, and quality


26 food. In the coordinator’s messages, the “ei ghth chair” is a commonl y referenced symbol of dignity: [Travis reminds us:]We serve with dignity and patience. Our tables have eight chairs, but we only seat seven. The eighth chair is for us to sit and chat, if we have time. We offer an ear – these peopl e may never have anyone to talk to. We can’t solve their problems but we can give them someone to talk to. (Fieldnotes V) The same message appeared in Gene’s Thursday speech: He [Gene] goes through all th e rules, and encourages us to take advantage of the eighth seat at the table, to give our guests the only sympathetic ear they may get all day.' He tells us that we ‘can't solve their problems, but we can listen.’ (Fieldnotes VI) The ‘eighth chair’ the coordina tors refer to is a daily sym bol of the dignity message. Each table at the caf is surrounded by eight chairs, but guests are only supposed to be seated at seven, so that volunteers can sit w ith the guests and chat whenever they have a chance. The opportunity for volunteers to enga ge personally with guests is an extension of the dignity message, symboli zed by the “eighth chair.” Dignity is an important ideology at the Grace Caf. The message of dignity, presented in the caf’s offici al rhetoric, is passed to volunteers through the caf’s organizers, and built in to the caf’s structure. The message of dignity can also be seen in the daily talk and actions of the caf’s volunteers.


27 The Message of Dignity: Talk and Behavior of Committed Volunteers The message of dignity is presented strongly by the caf’s publications and organizers, but it does not end there. Volunt eers at the caf repeated the dignity message and practiced it daily. While at the caf, I observed how volunteers did dignity. On my first day at the ca f, Dolly, who has been volunteering with the caf for several years, approached me to tell me how the cafe works: She [Dolly] gives me a run-down of how things are done (this information is already becoming monotonous – you hear the same speech from everyone). We serve one course at a time, soup or salad (today it’s soup) then entre, and finally dessert. There is an extra chair at each table and then we are encouraged to sit and visit with the patr ons. (Fieldnotes I) In this example, Dolly discusses the pract ical applications of the dignity message, emphasizing the structure of service and e xpectations for volunteers. While Dolly focused on practicalities, other volunteers em phasized the ideologica l importance of the dignity message. Mark, a volunteer from th e local university, felt that the dignity message sets Grace Caf apart from other services: I ask him [Mark], since I see him here every Friday, if he goes to any other places to volunteer. He tells me no, he just voluntee rs on Fridays and he picked the Grace Caf because he found it online, and looking over the we bsite, he liked the idea of ‘dignity’ He says he wouldn’t like to work at a soup k itchen, where there are a lot of rules, and discipline. He prefers this setting, because they treat the homeless people like human beings. (Fieldnotes VI) For Mark, the dignity message is an important ideology: it’s what makes the caf special, and what attracted him to volunteer. Dignit y, then, is not simply something that is important to the caf’s organizers. Dignity is also important to some volunteers.


28 Similarly, Butch, who was formally homeless, discussed how the Grace Caf is different from other agencies he has encountered as a client: “I’ve been to the Salvation Army; I was there for five days for free. You know, it wasn’t pleasant. They treat you like…t he people treat you like dirt they don’t treat you well. They’re there for a paycheck they don’t have the heart; it’s just for a paycheck. And I think that’s so important, you know, so important. It’s different at the caf…I can honestly say th at their mission statement, as far as the love and the dignity, they [Grace Caf ] expressed that to me well. And that made a big difference.” These examples of Butch and Mark illustrate th at the concept of dignity, as it appears in the rhetoric of the caf, can carry meaning for volunteers. Volunteers then apply this meaning to their service. On a daily basi s, volunteers use tech niques to incorporate dignity into their interactions with guests. At the caf, an important aspect of di gnity is having an everyday conversation with guests. Each week, Travis emphasized th at we should not pry in to our guests’ lives, but instead focuses on similar points of intere st. When I worked with Travis downstairs at the gate, I watched him do this: Travis talks to the group, asking them how they are a nd mentioning how beautiful the weather is. The crowd seems very upbeat, talking to me, Travis, and one another. Travis starts asking people wh ere they’re from, and they listen to each other. One man says he’s from Memphis, and another asks what part, and they compare stories of living in Memphis. (Fieldnotes IX) And later: After letting a group of ten go up, there is a man at the front of line who Travis knows. He greets him by name and shakes his hand. The man is tall, with dark hair. He is wearing a black cowboy hat, with a black t-shirt tucked into jeans, which are tucked into black cowboy boots. Travis asks him how the trucking is coming, and the man says, ‘Just getting my cell phone turned on today. I’m free to work now, just got to wait for a call.’ Travis says that that’s just wonderful. ‘Gotta watch out for those accidents,’ Tr avis says. The man says Yeah, that accident just went off his record, so now he can work again. (Fieldnotes IX)


29 Travis’s normal conversations were a key stra tegy in bringing dignity to guests. His interactions illustrate how the caf’s concep t of dignity appears in volunteers’ daily service. I also observed other volunteers, especially ‘regular’ volunteers, applying the dignity message to their daily intera ctions with simple friendliness: Table 3 fills up quickly, and I watch with admiration how Dolly interacts with her customers. She sits down immediately with them and chats while they get bread. The whole table is involved in th e conversation. (Fieldnotes II) Dolly has been volunteering at the caf for se veral years, and takes pride and pleasure in the relationships she has built with guests. These relationships exemplify the respect and warmth associated with the dignity message The example above is typical of many interactions I observed between guests and regu lar volunteers. During service, a friendly and amicable atmosphere prevailed. Many vol unteers could be seen laughing, touching, and sitting with guests. Volunteers also applied the dignity message as it related to st andards of service: Although everyone else was putting salads down before their guests arrived, Annette did not want to do that, becaus e she did not want our table wondering how long the salads had been sitting. Anne tte asks if everyone is ready for dinner as she sets down her salads, and returns, telling me that all but one wants their meals. (Fieldnotes IV) In this example, Annette sets high expectations for her the qu ality of service she provides to her table. At the caf, dignity m eans providing meals in a restaurant-style environment where clients are treated as gue sts in a restaurant, enjoying high-quality food and respectful treatment. The caf’s official rhetoric, appearing in its newsletters and on its website emphasizes the importance of providing dignified service to guests. The dignity message


30 is transmitted to volunteers at the caf th rough daily announcements. While the dignity message was pervasive throughout the organizati on, in daily practice, this ideal was not always visible.


31 Chapter 5: Findings: Disjuncture s Between Ideals and Practices In organizers’ messages to volunteers, th e consistent message is that the Grace Caf provides a restaurant-qua lity, dignified food service to homeless and hungry guests. However, in practice, the Grace Caf is not a conventional restau rant; it is a non-profit charity organization operating under extremely li mited conditions. This reality results in disjunctures between the ideal s presented in the dignity message and the practical workings of the cafe. During my first few weeks, I was partic ularly struck by the contradictions between the proclaimed quality of service and its implementation. The importance of serving guests in a dignified manner is repeated in official rhetoric by organizers, and by volunteers, but upholding the standards of service is not always easy. Disjunctures Between Ideals and Practice: Service and Beverages The rhetoric of the caf emphasizes a hi gh-quality meal served in a restaurant style. However, when comparing the caf to a restaurant like Carrabba’s, for example, the caf is not like a restaura nt at all. I began to see this on my first day: Annette and I are serving table two together, and imme diately after we’ve brought our soup to the table, Travis comes up a nd tells us that we can probably start bringing the ‘dinners.’ I am confused and a li ttle irritated; because he just told us that part of the dignity of the caf is that we serve one course at a time. (Fieldnotes I) And later… Annette and notice that everyone around us has served desert already, before their customers have finished dinner. I feel like the service is rushed and workers are


32 focused on getting people served and on their way, despite a previous emphasis on serving in a slow, dignif ied manner. (Fieldnotes I) Although individual guests ar e never explicitly rushed at the caf, workers are expected to rush through serv ice. Meals are served in c ourses, but each course comes quickly after the next. When I first starte d volunteering, I was often reminded to bring out the next course before my guests had finished the first. This violation of the dignity message does not only affect the volunteers w ho serve: while guests are never asked to rush; the effect of rushed serv ice is that subtly, guests ar e encouraged to hurry through their meals. The provision of beverages is anothe r example of disjunc tures between the dignity message and the caf’s practices. The caf offers iced tea to each guest, but not in the way experienced by guests at traditional re staurants. That is, while caf guests can enjoy one glass of tea, and even sweeten it with sugar or sweetener, they do not get a second glass. Iced tea is limited to one glass per guest, after that, th ey get water. While this is different from other restaurants, what is most surprising is the manner in which the water is provided. I experienced this working with Annette on my first day: Some of our guests are out of water and I go to the drink station to get glasses of water. There are trays filled with glasses of tea but no water. I return to Annette questioningly and she tells me that we fill water from a pitcher and just pour it on top of the remaining tea in the glass, if th e patron wants water. I look at her with surprise and a touch of disgust. She says, ‘I know, it’s weird,” but we both go grab pitchers of water and fill the empty tea glasses. (Fieldnotes I) Instead of bringing a fresh glass of water to each guest when they have finished their tea, servers at the cafe simply pour water on top of the tea. In subsequent weeks, when I worked with newcomers, many of them reacted to this like I did. This practice is quite shocking, largely because it results in a mu rky-looking, very unappeti zing beverage.


33 In practice, the rushed service and tea policy contradicted the restaurant-quality claim made by the Grace Caf. However, as is the case with other disjunctures between ideals and practical applications, justifications for these contradicti ons can be rooted in practicality. The caf serves 175 meals a da y, but only between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm. With a dining room that only seats 56, each table must turn over at least three times in an hour. As a result, volunteers must rush serv ice. In addition, as with any non-profit organization, the caf operates with limited resources. Given these constraints, guests’ tea consumption is limited, and it makes practic al sense to only use one glass per guest, instead of using separate gl asses for water and tea. While the reasons for these limitations to the dignity message were not extensively discussed, they ar e possibly due to time and budget constraints. These contradictions troubled me initially, but it is possible to neutralize these by referencing limited resources. The ticket policy, however, is a much more striking contradiction between the dignity message a nd the caf’s daily functioning. Disjunctures Between Ideals and Practice: Tickets The caf serves meals from 11:30-12:30. However, in order to gain admittance, guests must have tickets, which are hande d out between 9:30 and 11:00 the morning of service. This means that guests lose their mo rning getting tickets and then waiting to get in. Implementation of the ticket policy also of ten creates an atmosphere at the downstairs gate that is strikingly incons istent with the dignity message promoted by the organization. Before they come into the caf, guests lin e up behind a gate with their tickets. At 11:30, the gate is unlocked and guests with tickets pass through in groups. After going through the gate, guests wait outsi de the door to the caf, wher e they are individually let


34 in when chairs become available. On my sixth day at the caf, I went downstairs with Butch and we let people through the gate. Th is experience was enti rely different from working upstairs in the dining room. Despite the rushed service, the atmosphere in the caf’s dining room is generally upbeat and pleasant. Working downstairs, on the other hand, is not pleasa nt. It is usually warm outside and guests wait, crowded togeth er, shifting uncomfortably on their feet. This is not how guests wait at Carrabba’s. In addition to the uncomfortable wait, the ticket policy often causes conflict be tween the guests and volunteers: Butch and I are taking tickets, but at one point, while we are letting people in, a man comes up saying he doesn't have a tick et. He is talking to Butch, and Butch tells him to wait with the others who don't have tickets, but the man will not move. He tells Butch he can't come during ticket times, because he's at school. He says that 'everyone knows that' and dema nds to be let upstairs to verify. Butch refuses, and when he puts his hand on this man’s shoulder, the man yells at Butch not to touch him. As this goes on the lin e is held up completely. Several people are lining up behind us to leav e (the entrance is also the exit) and I interject to ask the man to step out of the way a bit to let people out. Someone in the crowd outside shouts, ‘Yeah get out of the way!’ The man continues to argue with Butch, and seems to come close to tryi ng to push past us, when someone comes down the ramp with a ticket and hands it to the man. This de-escalates the situation a bit, but now Butch tells him that he needs to go to the end of the line. The man ignores this and tells Butch, ‘See, I got this ticket. Now what are you going to do? And I'll tell you what; you better not touch me again, because I'll knock your shit out.’ This restarts the argument, which goes on for quite a bit, with the man threatening Butch, and Butch trying to maintain composure. (Fieldnotes VI) The situation Butch experienced was a conseque nce of strains create d by the caf’s ticket policy. When I talked to other people who wo rked downstairs, they told me that such confrontations and struggles were nearly an everyday occurrence. Between the discomfort and the conflict that occur daily at the gate, the ticket policy is a striking violation of the dignity message Further complicating the tick et problem is the fact that not all volunteers stric tly enforce the policy.


35 For example, when Butch opens the gates, he instructs all guests without tickets to stand to the side while those with tickets are let through. At ten or fifteen minutes to close, if 175 guests have not been admitted, he lets in guests without tickets, up to 175. This procedure enables Butch to admit guests without ticke ts without the knowledge of Freddie, the chef, who expects guests and vol unteers to strictly adhere to the ticket policy. Butch is not alone in his failures to en force the ticket policy. Travis, Friday’s coordinator, had a similar procedure: He explains his system, which is simila r to Butch’s – he lets people in with tickets, keeping track of how many go in. If he lets in 175 with tickets, and there are still people without, he asks Freddie if he has e nough food for all of them. If not, he turns them away, which is difficult. However, if he lets in less than 175 with tickets, and there are some without, he lets in people without tickets, up to 175, without telling Freddie. The only probl em with that, he says, is that he’s afraid that someday he will let in a do zen people without tickets, and then get a group of latecomers with tickets and have to let them in too. If that ever happens, he says, ‘Then the game’s up. Freddie will know I’m letting in people without tickets without permission.’ So far, he says, he’s been able to feed everyone successfully. (Fieldnotes XI) Like Butch, Travis has developed a system to dodge the ticket rule. Later that day, I found that even Alice, the head volunteer c oordinator’s wife, did not enforce the ticket policy: When we have taken the last of the ticket s, we are at 140 people, and Travis lets in people without tickets, still keeping count. Alice, Ben’s wife, comes down to chat. While we’re talking, a man comes up and says he doesn’t have a ticket. Travis says that he will need to go upstai rs and ask Freddie if he can let him in. Alice tells Travis quietly that he should just go ahead and let him in. She reveals to us that she lets people in without tickets at the end, only when she goes over 175 does she ask Freddie. Tr avis confesses that he doe s the same thing, and they talk about how ‘it just makes sense’ to let people in, regardless of tickets, if they know there is plenty of food. (Fieldnotes XI)


36 Alice, Butch and Travis each developed a me thod for sidestepping the limitations of the ticket policy. Between these three volunteers, evidence accumulates that the ticket policy is negotiated, not upheld, by volunteers. This raises a question: why sustain a policy that creates conflict and is not enforced by volunt eers? Instead of empha sizing procedure, the volunteers I worked placed importance on ma king sure as many people were served as possible. This practice is more consistent wi th the dignity message than the official ticket policy. At the Grace Caf, the ticket policy is burdensome and a constant source of conflict. However, like all the other disjunctures betwee n ideology and daily execution, the ticket policy is rooted in practicality. On a daily basis, guests appear in consistent numbers. But what is the caf to do if someday, demand for meals surpasses 175 people? Tickets are a logical way to deal with this realistic constraint. The ticket policy ensures that, in the face of high demand, the caf can admit guests on a fair, first-come, firstserved basis. But after heari ng the dignity message, the ticket policy didn’t seem to fit, and as we’ve seen, volunteers have found ways to practice dignity even when the policy itself is undignified. Another disjuncture between the caf’s pr ojected ideology and practical application was the lack of commitment among many of the caf’s volunteers. Disjunctures Between Ideals and Practice: Uncommitted Volunteers In the caf’s dignity rhetoric, volunt eers are the caf’s ambassadors, never forgetting the dignity message. I met many volunteers like this, but I also met volunteers who were at the caf for a variety of ot her reasons. Many volunteered to fulfill community service requirements, for class projects, or with the local university’s volunteer organization. These vol unteers were often unreliable. At some times, the caf


37 would have an unexpected shortage because volunteers who were expected to be there never showed up. At other times, so ma ny people would show up unannounced that the room would swell with volunteers, who st ood along the wall with nothing to do. These infrequent volunteers, who of ten appeared unexpectedly, seemed less concerned with the dignity message than did the caf’s core volunteers. Some seemed content with simply showing up, and did not show interest in the caf at all: I’ve arrived at the caf early t oday, and there is nothing to do yet. I take a seat at a table and introduce myself to John and Jimmie. Jimmie tells me he busses here frequently. John says today is his first da y. Jimmie begins to tell John how things work ‘around here.’ Jimmie mumbles softly, and I can barely understand what he’s saying, even though I’m sitting right next to him. I look at John, sure that he can’t understand, because he’s sitting all th e way across the table. He’s looking at Jimmie occasionally, but also looking ar ound the room. He doesn’t seem to be trying to hear. (Fieldnotes I) The message of dignity and its application to everyday service is of utmost importance to many volunteers at the caf. Many new volunteers were very eager to learn on their first day. Some told me that they chose Grace Ca f specifically for its unique message of dignity. Others, like John, showed less aspira tion to take part in the dignity mission. John was not the only volunteer who acted indifferent to the dignity message: While I’m getting ready for service, a young man approaches me and introduces himself as Bob. I ask him if he’s volunteer ed here before and he says no. I tell him that he will hear how it goes plenty, but if he wants, I can tell him now. He answers with a ‘Nah’ and asks me if I’ve seen any of hi s friends. I tell him I don’t know who his friends are. He says he is here for a class project, but he missed last week. I ask him if it’s for Intro to Anthropology. He says yes, and I tell him last week they all rode together, so they should be here soon. He shrugs. (Fieldnotes III) Bob made clear that he was not as interested in the caf as he wa s in finding his friends and completing his class project. Volunt eers like John and Bob did not fulfill the expectations of volunteers in reflecting the caf’s ideology. In contradiction with the


38 projected image of the caf, many volunteers were unreliable and unconcerned. Instead of emphasizing their role in serving guests in a dignified manner, these volunteers gave other reasons for their ti me spent at the caf: Before service begins, I am talking to Alle n and Justin. Today is their first day at the Caf. They tell me they are fr om a volunteer organization at the local university, and that is how they found the Gr ace Caf. Justin tells me that they are competing because at the end of the year, his organization holds a banquet and awards the member with the most voluntee r hours. The rest of his group arrives, and he breaks away to talk to them. Th ere are four other vo lunteers, and Dusty asks me to show them where they can fi nd aprons and nametags. I help them get ready, and they ask me if I can take thei r picture. I do so, and they move to a table, where they sit and talk until Travis calls us to circle up (Fieldnotes VII) Allen and Justin were competing for voluntee r hours, and spent their time in a small group with their friends. This group was not the first to take pictures of themselves while volunteering at the caf. Picture-ta king was a common practice among new and infrequent volunteers, and gave the imp ression that these volunteers were simply enjoying a ‘day at the zoo.’ Instead of subscribing to the guest-centered mission of the caf, many new and infrequent volunteers stayed in their so cial groups, spending most of their time visiting with one another. Once, this interfered directly with my own experience at the caf: Since we’re done serving, I get my plate a nd find a place to sit. I sit at a table with a guest who is picking at his desert. He is dressed very nicely, in a suit and tie. He asks me if I mind if he sits fo r awhile, because he has somewhere to be, and he’d rather leave from here. I sa y no, of course not, and ask him how his meal was. He says everything was great, and we’re talking about the nice weather today, when Mark interrupts and asks me what I was for Halloween. He and two other people from the univers ity’s volunteer orga nization have sat at the table, in the seats to the right of me. The man I am talking to is on my left. I tell Mark quickly about my costume, but he continues to talk to me as I’m trying to continue talking to the man to my left He tells me about his costume – he dressed as a banana and says it was his mo st clever costume ever. He tells me about the parties he went to in the past week, and his plans to go to one more party this weekend. Mark continues his conversation, and as I struggle not to listen, the man to my left gets up and leaves. When he’s gone, I look at Mark and


39 tell him, ‘I was talking to that guy.’ Mark says, ‘Oh, I didn’t notice,’ and apologizes. He then continues talk ing about himself (Fieldnotes XI) In this example, the dignity message and attention to guests was lost in Mark’s conversation about himself. The indiffere nce he showed guests also affected my interaction. However, I did not have many exam ples like this: indi fferent volunteers did not usually interfere, they si mply did not show interest. Because new volunteers were notoriously undedicated, regular volunteers often treated them with the same indifference these volunteers showed the caf. The indifference of regular voluntee rs was applied to all new vol unteers, not only those who did not show interest. This dynamic detract ed from the unified volunteer community described in the caf’s rhetoric. Unfortuna tely, there are simply not enough regular, dedicated volunteers to keep the caf running daily. Because of this, the caf must rely on and tolerate infrequent volunteers in orde r to consistently have enough people to function. Although this contradi cts the projected image of the caf, it makes sense. While most volunteers who violated the dignity message at the caf were new, uncommitted volunteers, this was not universally true. Jackie, who has been with the caf for over a year, also breached the rules of dignity while I was working at the gated downstairs: As we’re standing downstairs, Jackie come s out of the caf, shouting at the guests in line. She leans out over the edge, and says, ‘Goddamn, I am so tired of these people!’ I look back to the waiting crowd, to see if a nyone else heard her, and I see some raised eyebrows, but no one appears to be as shocked or offended as I am. One man says, ‘Oh, we’re so sorr y to trouble you, lady. It must be rough, waiting on homeless people one hour a day. I wouldn’t know; I’m always standing in line.’ The crowd laughs, a nd they continue talking about Jackie. (Fieldnotes IX)


40 Jackie’s outburst was rude and inappropr iate, but I seemed to be the most surprised by this violation of dignity. He r comment was quickly neutralized by a guest’s sarcastic remark, but the example remains: the dignity message, which entails that guests are treated with warmth and respect, reli es on volunteers’ impl ementation. However, volunteers sometimes violated the expecta tions of the dignity message, as in the examples above. I have discussed many disjunctures betw een the caf’s stated ideals and how service is executed daily. Pe rhaps the most striking, and mo st disappointing, example of disjunctures is the eighth chair. Disjuncture between Ideals an d Practice: The Eighth Chair Each table is to be surrounded by eight ch airs, but guests are onl y to sit at seven. The eighth chair is for volunteers to sit a nd visit with guests whenever the opportunity arises. The eighth chair is a central elem ent in the connection between volunteers and guests. Caf leaders and orga nizers emphasize the importan ce of the eighth chair in providing the opportunity for friendline ss and conversation between guests and volunteers. This connection is a key part of the dignity messa ge. However, the practical applications of the eighth chair often do not m eet the stated ideals. I was made aware of this on my first day: Dolly discusses how things are done at th e caf. After discus sing the course of service, she tells us about the eighth chai r. There is an extra chair at each table and after bringing out the meals we are encouraged to sit and visit with the patrons. However, she says, no one does th is anymore. Her lips become thin and I sense disapproval. She tells us everyone used to do this, but not anymore, but she says that’s a whole other story. (Fieldnotes I) Dolly was right. Opportunities for using the eighth chair were often swallowed up by the fast pace of service at the Caf. I quickly l earned that finding time to sit and chat was not


41 easy. Sitting down while I worked a table al one was impossible. Sitting when working with a partner meant that my partner had to do all the work. Occasionally, I would see Dolly sitting in her eighth chair. However, she was the only volunteer I saw do this more than once, and I also watched her partner scramble to serve all their guests alone. In addition from it being impractical to sit dur ing service, sometimes I found that this opportunity disappeared altogether: Most of my customers have left and been replaced by new ones. I notice that the eighth chair (where we are supposed to s it and visit) is gone and wonder when I am supposed to have time to do that with lunch being so rushed (Fieldnotes I) On many occasions my eighth chair would disa ppear. At other times, someone would simply sit in it: Seeing that I have a moment, I return to th e table to sit, but there is someone in my eighth seat. I get this man his dinner. After I set down the dinner, Dusty (a regular volunteer,) asks me if this is my ta ble. I tell him yes, and he says there are too many people sitting. I tell him I know, but I don’t know what to do about it. He tells me this person didn’t go to the tabl e he was told to, and next time I need to just tell the person to go to the table they were sent to, but I know I won’t have time to do that. (Fieldnotes III) Because service is rushed at the caf, sitti ng and chatting with guests is impractical for volunteers. In the examples above, sitting down was impossibl e because the eighth chair was unavailable. In these cases, the eight h chair became nothing more than an empty symbol. The opportunity to sit and chat with guests was emphasized to volunteers by the caf’s official rhetoric and its organizers, but on an everyday basis, implementing this ideal was not possible. Eventually, I st opped wondering where my eighth chair had gone. Keeping up with the fast pace of service m eant that the opportunity to connect with guests was lost.


42 The eighth chair is one example in a lis t of instances where the ideal model presented by the caf’s organizers unravels. Rushed service, indiffe rent volunteers, and the disappearance of the eighth chair are all in stances of disjunctures between the caf’s stated ideology and everyday practices that ch allenge the validity of the caf’s dignity message. Although many of these disjuncture s can be attributed to time and budget constraints, repairing these disj unctures is essential to main taining the image of dignity. This is done by ignoring practical realities and focusing on ideals. Keeping the Faith: Repairing the Disjunc tures Between Ideology and Practices In small and large ways, the everyday ex ecution of service at the caf does not match the image of dignity projected in the ca f’s rhetoric. Howeve r, this does not stop the caf’s organizers from upholding the im age. Nor does it stop volunteers from subscribing to the dignity message a nd applying it to their service. Sometimes, volunteers repaired the disjunc ture between ideology and practicality by ignoring the caf’s practical constraints and implementing their own versions of dignity. One example of this is volunteers such as Butc h, Travis, and Alice, who let guests through the gate without tickets, as long as the chef did not catch on. For these volunteers, feeding as many people as possibl e was prioritized over accepting practical constraints and following the rules. Another example of volunteers breaking th e rules in order to practice dignity occurred when Butch and Dusty disagreed over what to do about moldy bread: Butch is looking at the loaves carefully, and finding mold in some of them. He sets the moldy loaves aside, saying he will feed them to the birds. Dusty comes up behind him, inspecting the loaves he is setting aside. Dusty is an extremely soft talker, so I can’t hear what he’s saying, but Butch responds, “You would say that, Dusty. Think about it for a seco nd. Would you eat moldy bread?” Butch continues talking about the impropriety of serving moldy bread; I assume Dusty


43 suggested he serve some of the less mol dy loaves. I can see that some of the loaves he is tossing aside have only one or two spots of mold. It is my guess Dusty suggested serving the ot her slices. (Fieldnotes VI) In an organization operating under a limited budget, discarding an entire loaf of sliced bread because of a few spots of mold can be seen as financially irresponsible. But for Butch, dignity means not taking the risk of se rving moldy bread. Th e situation above is an example of a direct clash between ideology and practicalit y. Butch broke the rules of frugality, preferring to risk throwing away good food rather than serve bad food. In the examples of volunteers who break the rules in order to uphold the dignity message, volunteers take personal responsibil ity for repairing the disjuncture between ideology and practicality. At other times, the caf’s organizers and core volunteers repaired the disjuncture by si mply ignoring contradictions. Infrequent and unreliable volunteers posed a challenge nearly every week. Sometimes there were too many, sometimes ther e were too few. Vo lunteers had to be taught how things were done at the caf and how to keep service running smoothly. Because occasional volunteers were so hard to rely on, the caf’s daily service relied heavily on the work of a core group of regular volunteers, who did th e important work of letting people in the door, preparing and arranging food, serving tables, and working downstairs at the gate. New volunteers filled spots around the regulars: assisting with serving a table, preparing dri nks at the drink station, roll ing silverware, or bussing. As a new volunteer, I felt like an outsi der and a bother. New volunteers at the caf are ignored and dismissed, but many regular volunteers also keep a very close eye on them. For the first several weeks I volunt eered, I often got de fensive with other


44 volunteers who I felt were watching me too closely. My first week, I shared these feelings with Big Steve, who was also a new volunteer: Big Steve is standing next to us, and he asks me how I like it so far. I tell him I feel like I have a lot of bosses. He sa ys, “Yeah, everyone around here thinks they write your paycheck.” (Fieldnotes I) I was not the only volunteer who noticed I wa s being monitored. Big Steve reflected my feelings, while ironically drawi ng attention to the fact that we were treated as employees rather than volunteers. Feeling as if I was under surveillance was coupled with the impression that regular volunteers did not expect new volunteers to be around for long: At the end of my first day, there are many people I haven’t met yet. But I know, from conversations with Ben, comments about “always new faces” and remarks about volunteers who never re turn, that many of the peopl e I see today (except for the ‘regulars’) may not be here next w eek. They’re probably thinking the same thing about me. (Fieldnotes I) The regular volunteers deal w ith unreliable new volunteers by correcting and monitoring their behavior, while doing th eir best to work around them. As a new volunteer, I was very aware of this attitude. Only after appe aring regularly and lending an extra hand after the guests had left, did I begin to feel like a pa rt of the ‘in’ group. From this perspective, I saw how other new volunteers were ignored: As soon as I walk into the dining room I see a large group of people sitting around one of the tables. They are talk ing among themselves; there are about 12 of them. I also see Butch and Dusty, and go over to say hi. As I walk up to them, Dusty approaches me and shakes my hand firmly, patting me on the back with his other hand. He say's 'good to see you' and asks me how I am today. We chat briefly, but Dusty is always looking for something to do, so he leaves me quickly. I say hi to Butch and ask him who all these pe ople are. He tells me he's not sure the coordinator is not here yet; maybe Ben scheduled them. I wonder if Butch has even talk ed to them. From Butch's dismissive attitude this seems to be the responsibility of the coordinator and not something he has even given any thought to.


45 While we are talking, Dusty comes up and says, 'they look about sixteen.' Butch and I look. They do seem young. (Fieldnotes VI) In this example, Butch and Dusty did not interrupt their routine to acknowledge the presence of new volunteers. New volunteers could be literally ignored. Such transient volunteers also were ignored in the caf’s rhetoric, which highlighted the regular volunteers as the caf’s heroes. For exam ple, Dolly is a vete ran volunteer. Although often impatient and snappy with other volunteer s, she is extraordinarily friendly with guests: He [Ben] shows us the eighth chair at each table, and tells us that when we get a second (which, he adds, may be difficult because there are no t a lot of volunteers today,) we are to sit at the eighth chair and visit with our guests. He turns our attention to Dolly, and tells us that she is very good at this: watch how she does it and learn from her. (Fieldnotes X) Here, Dolly is highlighted for exceptional friend liness to guests and is presented as a role model for volunteers who should strive to be equally friendly. Similarly, Dusty, a longtime volunteer is highlighted in the caf’s newsletter: Every once in a while someone comes along that exemplifies the meaning of service. Dusty is that someone! Ask any of the gue sts or volunteers at Grace Caf about him and the response is always preceded with a big smile! (Caf Newsletter, Fall 2007 ) This excerpt appeared in a four-paragraph sec tion of the newsletter praising Dusty for his long-term unwavering dedication to the caf. Other heroes a ppear throughout the newsletters in photos with cap tions praising their service. These heroes “give [their] heart and much of their time,” (G race Caf Newsletter, Fall 2007 ) “cheerfully serve with gratitude for the opportunity,” (Gra ce Caf Newsletter, Holidays 2006 ) are “always ready to serve with a warm plate and a smile ,” (Grace Caf Newsletter, Winter 2007 ) and


46 “inspire volunteers with their friendly personality and smiles” (Grace Caf Newsletter, Summer 2007 ). By focusing on heroic volunteers and ignoring unreliable vol unteers, the caf prevents practical constraints from interf ering with its dignity message. Similarly, organizers at the caf conti nue to emphasize slow service, a restaurant-style atmosphere, and the eighth chair, even though these ideals can crumble in daily service. The constructed image of the caf is upheld by a focus on regular, heroic volunteers. These volunteers reci procate with their stories about the extraordinary impact the Grace Caf has on their lives and the lives of those served. On the caf’s website, and in its quarterly newsletter, the divergent experiences of volunteer s and the disjunctures between reality and practicality are hom ogenized into the image of a Grace Caf volunteer who experiences the joy of making a difference in the lives of those they serve: I get such pleasure out of helping these fo lks and interacting with them. They are the invisible people in our so ciety, and to get them talking at the table is very rewarding. To see them appreciate bein g treated with dignity is incredibly satisfying. It’s very importa nt to keep reminding them that they are worthy, and that’s what our Monday group does. (Grace Caf Newsletter, Holidays 2006 ) This excerpt exemplifies the dignity messa ge projected by the caf’s rhetoric and organizers. Instead of focusing on daily cha llenges experienced every day at the caf, volunteers share their success stories: We treat each and every visitor with dign ity and respect and in turn we get much more than we ever give. We are told thank you for everything we do for them. When we smile at them, we receive a smile in return. When we sit down and share a joke or funny story, we are to ld one too. (Grace Caf Newsletter, Summer, 2007 )


47 This volunteer describes an experience at th e caf free of practical constraints. On the caf’s website, volunteers are asked to shar e their testimonials. When a volunteer’s experience aligns with the caf’ s projected image, it is shar ed on the website and in the newsletter. In this manner, the caf’s orga nizers and its volunt eers co-construct and perpetuate the idealized image of the caf. In summary, the concept of dignity is used to frame the importance of the work done at the Grace Caf. This concept is empha sized in the caf’s official rhetoric, and transmitted to volunteers on a daily basis. Howe ver, the constraints that the caf operates under create disjunctures between the dignity message and its daily execution. In order to sustain the dignity message, volunteers so metimes break the rules, but more often, practical limitations are simply ignored and su ccess stories are highlight ed. As a result of these strategies, volunteers a nd organizers are able to ‘k eep the faith’ in dignity.


48 Chapter 6: Discussion and Conclusion This study has explored the concept of di gnity as it appears at the Grace Caf. Here I have highlighted how the idea of dignity is of primary importance. The importance of dignity is emphasized in the caf’s official rhetoric, in the speeches of the caf’s organizers, and in the daily efforts of many volunteers. Dignity is built into the structure of the caf, through the provisi on of quality food in a restaurant-style environment. Further, an essential component of the dignity message is that volunteers treat guests with respect and friendliness. According to caf polic y, each table has an extra chair, where volunteers are to sit and ch at with guests during service. The eighth chair represents both an opportunity and an expectation for volunteers’ personal connection with guests. However, practical constraints challenge the execution of the dignity message. Service is rushed, resources are limited, and not all volunteers can be relied on to incorporate dignity into their service. In daily operati on, disjunctures emerge between the caf’s dignity ideology and the execution of service. Yet, volunteers and organizers at the caf emphasize success a nd ideology. Instances wher e the dignity message is powerfully executed are highlighted, committed volunteers are spotlighted and others are ignored. Thus, volunteers and organizers ma nage to ‘keep the faith’ in dignity. My research is limited, of course, to the Grace Caf. The value of ethnography is in exploring the experiences a nd understandings of people in a limited social context, and


49 for this purpose, my research is strong. Th is study cannot be used to draw conclusions about other social service agen cies, or charity in general. Further, because interviews with guests and volunteers are not included in my data, my re search does not explore the personal meanings the dignity message carried for individuals. This is a separate research project. What emerged as most comp elling from my research is how dignity is done and talked about by volunteers and organizers at the Grace Caf. The Grace Caf operates within a society where the problem of homelessness is a result of structural inequalities. Structural forces create the caf ’s clients. Although the caf tries to serve homeless guests as guests in a restaurant, it remains that the caf is not a restaurant. The caf’s ticket procedure a nd limits on tea and food choice are notable contradictions to the caf’s dign ity message. Caf organizers talk about the ‘eighth chair’ as an opportunity for volunteers to sit and vi sit with guests, but service becomes so rushed and hectic that volunteers rarely do so. These disjunctures between ideology and practical application are a result of limited resources. If we ask why the caf operates with such limited resources, we are taken back to social structure. The homeless are seen as deficient individuals. Pe ople hate ‘handouts.’ It’s no t surprising, then, that pouring money and time into the caf is not a priority for most people. Given that homelessness is a problem of so cial structure, the treatment of people who are homeless, whether positive or nega tive, has no effect on the root causes of homelessness. The problem remains that so cial service agencies, which endeavor to soothe the problem of homelessness on an individual level, still divert attention away from real solutions to homelessness, such as addressing the structur al inequalities that create and sustain poverty. In fact, social services are partic ularly antithetical to social


50 change because they present the illusion of a solution. Social se rvices allow people to feel that something is being done about the problem of homelessness, and the lives of homeless people are sustained because social services provide basic necessities, which further arrests demand for social change. The primary goal of the Grace Caf is to provide meals to homeless guests in a dignified and respectful environment. While most research on the homeless is focused on the individual problems and pathologies of “t he homeless,” other re searchers have drawn attention to the personal need s of homeless people. Some researchers have found that dignity, defined as a sense of self-worth, is one of these needs. According to these researchers, the experience of losing one’s home and living on the streets presents a formidable challenge to personal dignity (Buc kner, et al., 1993; Selts er and Miller, 1993; Snow and Anderson, 1993). Miller and Keys (2001), in their an alysis of interviews with homeless people at the Inspiration Caf, identified service factors that either facilitated or undermined a homeless person’s sense of dignity Further, the aut hors found that a sense of dignity can dramatically a ffect the outcomes of an indivi dual’s homeless experience: “An important implication of these findings is that one way homeless people get the hope and motivation to begin to reconstruct their li ves is by being treated with dignity” (349). Snow and Anderson (1993) attest that a sense of se lf-worth is as important for homeless people as the fulfillment of survival need s. Therefore, the dignity provided by organizations such as the Grace Caf, the Inspiration Caf, and Loaves and Fishes (Allahyari, 2000) is as significan t as the food they serve. The dignity message at the Grace Caf is not executed as flawlessly as it is presented. Further, from a structural perspect ive, the Grace Caf operates as a distraction


51 from the real problems creating homelessness. Although the Grace Caf can be criticized on many fronts, it provides an invaluable service to real pe ople with unwavering regularity. By providing dign ity and respect instead of bl ame and punishment, organizers and volunteers endeavor to crea te an oasis for homeless people, or in the words of Travis, “an island of hope in a sea of misery.”


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