My wife is having guests over, so I decided to head to the coffee shop to get some writing done.
It got me to thinking.
The shop in question is comfortable. There are places to sit and read, write, or whatever. It’s got a comfortable living room type atmosphere, with nooks where various types of people tend to gravitate to do their thing (whatever that thing is).
The coffee is not bad and costs about half as much as a certain other well known chain.
It also reminds me a lot of the Manga/Internet cafes that are common in Japan. I’ll go into more detail shortly.
It’s comfortable, but it’s not free. There is the expectation that you will be spending money while you are there.
Now, how this ties into Manga/Internet Cafes:
All over Japan, and especially in larger cities, there are places that are variably called Internet Cafes, Manga Cafes, Net Clubs, and various other names.
The details and level of comfort vary but the default pattern is like this.
You have a place, often a membership club but non-members are ok for a few hundred yen extra. You are basically paying by the hour to use the facility, and most places have an overnight pack for as little as 900 to 1400 yen a night. You just have to check in after 2000 or so.
You have a booth with a computer that will generally have a comfortable chair, a sofa, or just tatami or foam mats. The booth is usually the size of an office cubicle.
While you are there, you have access to the internet, restrooms, and an extensive library of manga and sometimes other more useful books.
It’s kept at a comfortable temperature, and the lighting is kept low in the area with the cubicles.
It is entirely understood that those using the overnight pack will likely be sleeping at least six of their eight to twelve-hour stay.
And on top of all that, these places usually have diner type food available, WiFi, and for 100 yen, you can use the showers.
Needless to say, if I am traveling alone in Japan, I have no need for a hotel. If I’m with my family, of course, it’s a different story.
In addition to what is described above, many also have common areas where you are allowed to talk more and make more noise. This is often where you will find a handful of higher-end computers specifically made for gaming.
So, as all this information was rolling around in my head, a thought occurred to me.
Why could we not do something like this in the US?
A group of people or an organization could come together to buy a building in the city and build just such an establishment. The establishment can then be used to help homeless and at-risk people in its community.
Membership cards can be used as a tool to help eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help. After all, if you tie payment options to a single card (i.e. the account could have a credit/ debit card or PayPal account on file) then no one has to know if the guy who just swiped their card and left had to pay or not.
The addition of a mail room could also allow designated members to have a mailing address for all the purposes or society makes them necessary.
Homelessness is a major issue in our cities. This is not because of some inherent problem with cities, but rather its easier for most people to survive there than in rural environments. Especially come wintertime.
Imagine the impact that would be made if a place was available where people could have access to a community, education (the library), and a hot shower. Imagine being able to list an address on a job application, or knowing that if you can’t scrounge enough for a decent meal you’ll have access to something at least better than microwave ramen.
I like what Japan has done with their Manga Cafes, but I think that if you weren’t worried about making a profit, and wanted to build a community, it could be taken further.
The basic blueprint is already there. We just have to build on that.
The main concerns people are likely to present are funding, security, and privacy.
I’m not going to say these are actually easy hurdles, but I’m going to at least address each of them here.
I list funding first because, in any endeavor, that is the elephant in the room.
Even if what we are discussing helps to subvert the Capitalist system, we are still stuck working in that framework.
Incorporation is going to be a must. Non-profit status may be desirable. Either way, we need to keep its funding separate from our own, except as far as salaries are concerned. An organization also provides continuity.
Funding would have to rely heavily on paying members, donations, and other profitable endeavors that the organization may undertake.
I know this is an incomplete answer, but I think this deserves a conversation of its own rather than just one person saying “this is how it will/should work.”
Security is, perhaps, a little easier to address. We on the left have had a few hundred years at least to think on that one.
First of all, if a facility is operational twenty-four hours a day, it should also be continually staffed.
The people we bring into the fold as staff should all be trained in how to deal with most likely security situations. Flat up, we should police our own. The most important security concern is simply a matter of being present. Being present will minimize theft as well as preventing most other issues from escalating.
For things beyond that, training.
I don’t want to create a place of safety and comfort for societies most abused just to invite their most likely abusers in the moment things get stressful.
While we should not be antagonistic to law enforcement, we should not invite them in for any situation that the law does not specifically require it.
If that makes me sound a bit like a mob boss, fuck it. Another thing my time in Japan helped me to learn was an odd degree of respect for properly organized organized crime.
Our society attaches stigma to fucking everything, especially anything related to poverty.
Once established, we should make our presence known and facilitate those who need our services. We should also take measures to eliminate the separation between those who are paying customers and those who are not.
Membership cards make this sort of thing a lot easier than may have been in the past. No one has to know what status is associated with a card. No one has to know if the person in line ahead of them is a regular customer, or if they basically live there.
And for those approaching us for the first time, again, that is where training comes in.
Those who such an organization employs must share the organization’s values as much as possible. They need to understand discretion and compassion. They need to be the sort that is willing to say “fuck it,” and write off a meal as a loss in the ledger rather than let someone go hungry. And those in charge have to give them the authority to do so.
So, in summary:
I would love to see something similar in structure to the Manga/Internet cafe in Japan taken to another level and leveraged towards fighting poverty.
I think it could work, but it would have to be an intentional effort, and the initial resources would be a heavy lift.
I’ve been trying to find a way to express these ideas for a while. I’m surprised I didn’t think of this sooner.
Feel free to comment on this post. Going forward we have to communicate and share ideas.
Going forward, we need to work together to find solutions to local and global problems.