A homeless guy who looked to be in his 30s or 40s finished a meal at the Santa Cruz Diner Monday afternoon and then told the managers he was unable to pay.
Actually, what he said was that someone he worked with in the fields told him they paid for him in advance and he had no money.
The managers called police, but when officers arrived, a woman stepped up and said she paid his bill. Another man also volunteered when he heard what had happened.
The man walked away free.
What would you have done if you were sitting there?
I posted this story on Facebook and got dozens of answers, ranging from those who said the act of random kindness would only allow him to try it again, to those who thought that paying for the meal was what Jesus would have done.
It really struck a nerve: more than 1,500 people read the post and 129 commented.
I wanted to give non-Facebook users a chance to add their voices.
Here is some of what others said:
"Since when is being hungry & desperate a "crime"? asked Roy De La Cruz.
"It's more like an INJUSTICE, & I HAVE had a time in my life when I didn't know where my next meal was coming from. If you never have I don't expect you to understand.
Whether it's ucsc, the tourism, etc . . .it doen't matter now how we got here - lack of real city leadership towards resolving homelessness & hard drug addiction. . . . .maybe that's the real "crime".
Good karma for the people who paid for his meal."
But he was countered by many others including Tascha Marsch Foy, who said:
The homeless afford their meth and weed by panhandling (often aggressively), by stealing bikes, and even by stealing backpacks from schools. We are certainly enabling by providing such a comfortable place for these people to break the law.
And I should distinguish "homeless" from "druggie transients." The latter is my concern.
Homeless people who are looking for work – and the druggy transients who, like parasites, take advantage of the services designed for them – have become a huge issue in Santa Cruz. The city of 59,000 was once steadfastly liberal and charitable.
Now, with mentally ill people or drug addicts seen day and night on every block downtown during the holiday weekend, and property crimes and arrests going up, many people are wondering if the city hasn't gone too far in its compassion.
"I was in the Diner a week ago and saw a grungy, mentally suspect man come in and sit down at a table and the Diner staff jumped right on him," said Facebook reader Valerie Abbott.
"They pegged him perhaps as one who would dine and dash or annoy other customers or something. He left pretty darn quick.
"And it's worth noting, that this particular restaurant seems to have quite the problem with dine and dashers. There's a sign at the pay station saying essentially,' sorry but payment is due at time of service' due to the bad behavior of a few rotten apples.
"My two cents is that the homeless guy ate there while having no intention of paying and the good Samaritans are enabling and inadvertently encouraging this type of behavior."
Dominica Sena sided with the Samaritans:
"I would have probably offered to pay for the meal too.
"Can you imagine what he was feeling?
"He might have said to himself, I’m so hungry no matter what happens I need to eat. No matter what he was thinking I’m sure he did not want to be in that situation."
So did Cait Tomlinson: "I agree with the person who said being hungry is not a crime. It never fails to amaze me how people who have never had an empty belly can be so unsympathetic to those who live in vastly different conditions to them."
While Josh Loya suggested a practical approach: "Clearly some have never owned a business that was required to feed their own family? How about this 'I am broke and hungry...Do you have any work I can do for a meal, please?'"
While sometimes it seems like Facebook posts are mostly party or meal pictures, this post drew the kind of community discussion and debate you would see at a forum or city council meeting.
Add your thoughts below.