She bought him a hot chocolate and asked where he was staying.
“In the woods,” Dominic told her. “I’m staying in the woods.”
Since then, Kelly, who wears Starbucks earrings and a glittery, rhinestone Starbucks belt buckle and drives an immaculate, black-cherry-colored SUV, has spent a lot of time in those woods.
“Twenty-two years here and I never, ever imagined there are encampments in these woods, right behind places I shop,” she says as we drive to one of the spots.
A mother of two, grandmother of three and regional manager of 15 Starbucks stores, Kelly usually has her hands too full to give too much time to other causes.
But the man in a hoodie and slip-on shoes in January touched her. And she realized that something was changing in the once-small town where she’d moved two decades earlier to escape city life in Old Town Alexandria.
She found Dominic, then Wanda, then David Turner and dozens of others in the woods. And with a couple of her store managers and some employees, she began visiting them.
She tried to figure out the mental ills that prompted Dominic to live outside, tried to find the story of his life in all the delusions and mumbling and persistent arm-picking. Pick, pick, pick at his skin. “Do you have medication, Dominic?” she asked.
Kelly is still new at this and is still coming to grips with the depressing, crippling cycle of addiction and mental illness that is at the root of many cases of long-term homelessness.
She knows homeless folks don’t always inspire much sympathy from others. Fredericksburg went into a small furor last summer after the city police department issued a report about the homeless population and their share of the area’s crimes.
Police estimated that about 300 people have no fixed address in the area and that they are responsible for about 10 percent of the 3,000 crimes committed in this quiet exurb. (The main group that works with the homeless of Fredericksburg said the number of people living in shelters and on the street that they counted during their annual survey is closer to 200.)
The City Council called for hearings and solutions. Some residents demanded that all the homeless be rounded up and jailed. The leaders at Micah Ministries, a Christian outreach program that provides social services, asked for calm and understanding.
Kelly did her part. She told customers who would listen about the scope of the problem, and they would shake their heads in disbelief as they bought their $5 drinks.
Her stores began leaving a bin by the register to collect hotel toiletries, new socks, money. And every couple of weeks, she and other Starbucks employees would make packages to deliver to the homeless.