GASTONIA, N.C. -- A local business is stirring up controversy with T-shirts that say, “Throw the Bums Out.”
Critics say it sends the wrong message to homeless people.
James Hughes, owner of Sharkey’s Place in Gastonia is defending his choice to print the t-shirts and post pictures of it on Facebook.
Hughes opened his seafood restaurant two years ago and says the homeless problem has worsened over the years.
Hughes says he has worked to assist people in need, but the constant “harassment” of customers and staff by certain individuals, is a problem that can no longer be ignored.
Last week, when a homeless man he had asked to leave, in turn called police on him, he says it was time to take a stand.
“Once I saw there was absolutely nothing done, it was a catch and release situation. I felt that it needed to be brought to someone’s attention, that there is a problem,” he said.
“We are very sympathetic and definitely understand hard times. We’ve worked very hard to instill in the community that there is a brand new shelter down the street, a crisis ministry center and assistance-- places within an arm’s reach,” he said.
With so many places to get help, Hughes says it’s frustrating the same visitors are dropping by during and after business hours.
“They’re chasing down people, asking them for cigarettes, money, and when asked to leave, coming back to steal cigarette butts off my patio and choosing to urinate and defecate during closed business hours and we have to clean that up,” he said.
Hughes say, “Throw Out The Bums,” was not a phrase he came up with himself.
“We actually jumped online and found similar cities that have the same problem, they had picket signs, t-shirts made. One voice is hard to listen to but a walking billboard is hard to ignore. So, we basically took another city off the bottom of an existing t-shirt, re-created the t-shirt, and made it more specific to downtown Gastonia.”
The reaction to the message has been mixed.
One post read:
“This is most sickening tactless example of hatred to the homeless that I have ever seen in Gaston County NC I will NEVER frequent this establishment!! I hope they get shut down!! Jeris Hush
Bartender Jessica Queen says the response to her wearing the t-shirt has been mostly positive.
“This is a business, and it doesn’t make our customers feel welcomed, doesn’t make them feel comfortable at all with them coming in here. They’re basically begging. We support the homeless, anytime we can give back to the community, we do,” she said.
Queen makes a distinction between the “homeless” and the “bums” she is referring to.
“A bum is someone who doesn’t want to do something to help themselves,” she says.
“We’ve been here for two years, when you see the same ones over and over, to me that’s a bum.”
The back of the t-shirt reads #cleanupgastonia. Hughes says it’s a call to action.
“The positive feedback has been, ‘We we are very brave, for standing up for what we do believe is true right. It’s not about me, it’s about the growth of the community and ultimately, the plan of downtown Gastonia.”
Harvey Williams is homeless. He says he is brought to tears by the generosity of business owners on Main Street.
He says it makes him mad to see t-shirts like that, but understand how a few people can give those in his situation a bad rap.
“I’m trying to get back on my feet, but just need a little help from someone, but that shirt need to go. It need to take wings and fly.”