Wal-Mart and the Homeless Population

By Felicity Henderson

I had the opportunity of interviewing a manager at the local downtown Wal-Mart in Salt Lake City, Utah. Seeing as Utah has had a slow, but steady, increase in the transient population over the past 10 years; also the fact that a large part resides downtown and mostly around the area of that Wal-Mart, I thought it would be a good idea to see the thoughts of people who come into contact with that population on a day to day basis.

Questioning Mary* who is a night time manager at Wal-Mart, she had quite a few insights into the company and the homeless population.

Sitting across from me is Mary, her hair slicked back into a ponytail and wearing the standard uniform. She’s clearly exhausted and she rubs her eyes as we sit together in the attached Mcdonald’s to the store. Her shift has just ended, it’s nearly 2am, and she’s been here for 12+ hours.

How prevalent is the homeless population in this Wal-Mart?

“Very. There are people in a here day in and day out. They are here… 24 hours a day basically.”

Does this have any effect on business?

“Yes.. and no. Example being, we like.. Don’t put out anything that could be moderately stealable on display. You might go to the other Wal-Mart here in the valley, and you’ll see a display of lotions saying “Try Me!,” that would never, never ever happen here. There are a lot of people who would take advantage of that, and walk out with products without buying them. I’m not saying it’s solely the homeless people, though . There is a lot of lower income people who come to this location as well. But definitely, I’ve seen both of these kinds of people take advantage of stealable things. They don’t even lock up their jewelry on the Foothill location. If we did that, our things would be stolen in a hot second). But also, business isn’t hurting. Lots of people come in here day in and out. We are a huge location.”

How often do you have to deal one-on-one with the transient population?

“I would say… that that is a hard question. I talk to them almost every day. See them every single day. Have to take action against their actions and our store? I would say like every other day. And you would be surprised. There is obviously homeless people, but also there are homeless people that you would have no idea that they are homeless unless you worked here and started to see them not go home. And maybe go wash up in our bathroom every now and again.”

How do you personally feel about the homeless population coming to this area?

“For the most part? Sad. I feel sad that there is nowhere else for them to go. In the winter it gets super cold out here. And once I was just barely coming into my shift, and there was this homeless guy just nodding off outside of the store. Later we had to call the police over, that we always have here. It snowed in the middle of the night, and he had fallen asleep on the ground. He had died. I was never the same after that. He had nowhere safe to sleep and, as a result, he passed away. I think we need better systems in place.”

What piece of advice would you give a customer who was annoyed by the homeless population present in the store?

“That.. (sigh) for the most part, they are harmless. We don’t want them here any more than you do. But a lot of them have nowhere else to go. Now obviously there are some homeless people who do drugs in our bathrooms and we have to kick them out or harass shoppers every now and again. But those instances aren’t often. And I just want everyone to know that the homeless people here, they see you buying your food. They see you complaining about prices, and they watch you cart away loads of fresh fruit and veggies and clean socks and new underwear. They don’t have  any of that. They couldn’t even dream of any of that. I know it’s the holiday season and a lot of people are going to start being the giving mood. But I wish more people cared more about others during the whole year in general. Try and be kind to others. And have compassion.”

Hearing the compassion I didn’t expect from this Wal-Mart worker, who is hands on with a lot of lower income, and transient people day-to-day; we can all learn a lesson and take heed to her her words about how some of our fellow Utahns living every day on the lower income side of Salt Lake City.

*Named changed for security of Wal-Mart employee.