Finding Common Ground in the Square

Au Bon Pain and the Homeless

In the wake of alleged conflicts between Au Bon Pain employees and homeless patrons, restaurant management and the Homeless Civil Rights Project (HCRP) have drafted a set of principles guiding treatment of patrons by the staff.

The eight principles, outlined in an Au Bon Pain press release in October, dictate that patrons should not be discriminated against on the basis of their appearance or the "nature of their situation." But, the guidelines say, "management reserves the right to exclude all whose behavior is disruptive or threatening, regardless or their economic status. Sleeping and panhandling are recognized as disruptive behavior."

Au Bon Pain agreed to write the guidelines in response to a request by the HCRP, a Boston-based organization of homeless and formerly homeless people. HCRP's request came after an increase in the number of complaints of discriminatory incidents following a change in Au Bon Pain management a few months ago, said Jack M. McCambridge, director of HCRP.

"Homeless people were being systematically excluded," McCambridge, said.

Following the wave of allegedly discriminatory incidents, HCRP was prepared to picket the Au Bon Pain restaurants, McCambridge said. But the Au Bon Pain corporate office was responsive to HCRP grievances, McCabridge said, and the plans to picket were called off.


But John lacona, associate manager of the Harvard Square, said the request for the guidelines did not come in response to any particular problem. Iacona declined to describe any specific incidents that had occured in the past.

"The purpose of the guidelines was just to give public recognition and to define in black and white what everyone felt was fair and just," Iacona said.

Just One Incident

According to many Cambridge homeless people, the Au Bon Pain guidelines had been remarkably effective in promoting non-discriminatory treatment until an incident last week when a homeless man allegedly harassed a store manager.

Since then, Harvard Square Au Bon Pain has cracked down on seating time limits only for homeless people, said George Livingston, who is homeless.

Harvard, which owns the Au Bon Pain Harvard Square property, was not directly involved in the negotiations, but was very interested in the agreement, said Happy Green, Harvard's director of community relations.

"I think that it is an issue and a problem. Au Bon Pain is taking initiative and doing it in a very positive way with the people who know best about it," she said.

Au Bon Pain suggested that other businesses might use the recent set of guidelines as a model for their own business practices. "Au Bon Pain urges other commercial establishments to adopt these same non-discriminatory policies," the press release said