Homeless get hand up, not handout from enterprises like `Burger-Up'
SHIRLEY QUARMYNE is fighting homelessness with hamburgers. In one of the nation's more unusual experiments to help the downtrodden, the head of a housing and counseling center here has opened an inner-city hamburger stand where she intends to employ the homeless and generate income to help house them. ``You just can't give a person a bunk bed and a plate of food,'' says Mrs. Quarmyne, executive director of Queue-Up Inc., a nonprofit agency. ``That will just perpetuate their homeless state.''
America's burgeoning homeless problem is increasingly producing some inventive ways to help the indigent get back on their feet.
In Philadelphia, a public-private initiative was recently launched that puts homeless people to work for local builders rehabilitating abandoned houses. The structures are then used as shelters or low-income housing.
In Denver, several companies and social service agencies are opening a job-training center that will include a placement agency for the homeless and storefront space for businesses run by them.
New York City's Emmaus House, where 55 homeless live, has set up a wood shop in which the indigent make shelving for hospitals and toys for children.
Yet the teal-blue ``Burger-Up'' here, tucked behind Freddy Dee's Car Wash in a gritty central Los Angeles neighborhood, may mark the only such foray into fast food - a sort of Wendy's for the woebegone.
``Teaching job skills is an essential part of any homeless population,'' says Tim Hager of the National Coalition for the Homeless, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group.
``Homelessness is a circumstance. It is not a personality trait,'' he adds.
Quarmyne has long harbored the idea of launching such an enterprise. One reason is to provide jobs and skill-training for the homeless.
But she has also grown weary of soliciting money from government and private groups to fund her housing and counseling programs.
``It's painful to never have enough money to know what you can do,'' she says. ``We are going to demonstrate concretely what can be done with limited dollars.''
Any profits from Burger-Up will go back to Queue-Up to pay for more beds.
Quarmyne had her eye on the humble hamburger stand for some time, but Fred Lawson, the garrulous owner of the car wash and the stippled concrete building in which the walk-up restaurant operates, was not ready to deal.
But then, after going through three tenants in four years and persistent prodding from Quarmyne, he decided to lease the place to Queue-Up for $1 a year.
``I'm not for all this welfare and general relief,'' said Mr. Lawson, sitting in his narrow office in the back of the car wash, with its oak veneer paneling and windows tinted the shade of welders' goggles. ``I'm for a program that is going to motivate people and do something for their life.''
Burger-Up, which opened earlier this month, will eventually employ four people, and two of the jobs will be reserved for homeless people.
They will wait the two vinyl-covered tables out front, scrub dishes, and learn to cook.
In time, Quarmyne expects, the homeless employees will move on to jobs in food service or some other field, making way for two more homeless workers at Burger-Up.
They will work under the tutelage of Dorothy Johnson, a thickset woman who quit her job as a cook at another restaurant to help out at Burger-Up.
``I'm just excited, waiting for it to all come together,'' she says, sliding a cheeseburger and hot dog through the barred window to a customer.
Quarmyne figures she might be able to pull in $500 to $700 a day from food sales. Her overhead is low. Besides the break on rent, she persuaded a local food company to donate some equipment.
The location is also good. Burger-Up will get some business from the 8,900 customers a month who go through Freddy Dee's, as well as those who frequent other area establishments, such as Chapman's Tonsorial Parlor.
Quarmyne already has visions of franchising the altruism, opening more Burger-Ups on her own or with other groups that help the homeless.
There are no illusions of replacing the golden arches, just something to take a few more people off the streets.