Don’t blame char­i­ties for drop box deaths

Penticton Herald - - OPINION - TAY­LOR

Re­cently, a woman got trapped in a do­na­tion box in Toronto and died. A week ear­lier, a man died in a West Van­cou­ver do­na­tion box. The me­dia learned that since 2015, eight peo­ple have died try­ing to get in­side these cloth­ing bins.

Eight peo­ple! Wow! Shouldn’t that rate as a national se­cu­rity cri­sis?

Crit­ics called the bins “death traps.” A wit­ness to the Toronto woman’s death said, “She was just ut­terly pinned in there… It was like an an­i­mal trap de­signed not to re­lease her.”

In a col­lec­tion of pan­icky re­sponses, West Van­cou­ver or­dered all do­na­tion bins in the city locked. Van­cou­ver con­sid­ered ban­ning them com­pletely. Di­a­betes Canada de­cided to retro­fit all of its 4,000 cloth­ing do­na­tion bins across the coun­try. Burn­aby called for the re­moval of all bins.

And Rangeview Fabri­cat­ing of Toronto stopped mak­ing any con­tain­ers un­til it can de­velop a safer de­sign.

All of which seems to im­ply that hun­dreds of char­i­ties — national, re­gional, or lo­cal — are at fault for risk­ing the pub­lic’s health.

No one seems to be ask­ing why the pub­lic is get­ting into the bins any­way.

Ray Ta­heri, an en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s Okana­gan cam­pus, ar­gued that home­less peo­ple or those in need will try to pull them­selves in­side the bins to reach the con­tents in­side or to shel­ter them­selves for warmth.

Ta­heri de­scribed the vic­tims as “des­per­ate peo­ple.”

Maybe some of them are. But some of them def­i­nitely are not des­per­ate. Or home­less. Or even in need.

Global News fea­tured video of a well­dressed young man ex­tri­cat­ing him­self from the in­side of a metal cloth­ing bin. His es­cape re­quired strength and agility far be­yond the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of any home­less men I know.

Any­one re­ally des­per­ate doesn’t need to steal. Any thrift shop will give items away to any­one who can’t af­ford a dollar or two.

The Thrift Shop I know best, as­so­ci­ated with the United Church in Lake Coun­try, in­stalled surveil­lance cam­eras be­cause of the vol­ume of thefts.

One of the thieves does, in­deed, look some­what des­ti­tute. But, he loads up the trailer for his bi­cy­cle. And comes back 20 min­utes later with an ac­com­plice. She’s per­haps in her thir­ties. And she’s walk­ing, both ways.

They were not suc­cumb­ing to a ca­sual im­pulse.

They spent 47 min­utes sort­ing through do­na­tions to se­lect ex­actly what they wanted.

An­other night, the same cou­ple had to came back a second time, be­cause they couldn’t carry ev­ery­thing from their first visit.

An­other video shows a young cou­ple driv­ing up in a rel­a­tively late-model black four­door Honda Civic.

The male driver grabs a large wicker bas­ket, a do­na­tion, which he fills to over­flow­ing with stolen clothes. His fe­male com­pan­ion sits in the car with her win­dow down, smok­ing cig­a­rettes and spit­ting butts onto the ground, while she in­structs him which items to choose.

They fill the car’s back seat so full, they have to move front seats for­ward to make room.

Ours is not the only Thrift Shop af­fected. Thieves also hit the do­na­tion bins at the shop that sup­ports the Lake Coun­try food bank. Even though it’s right across the street from the RCMP of­fices.

Their op­er­a­tion closed over the Christ­mas pe­riod. When they re-opened after New Year’s, they found not one do­na­tion in their drop box. Not one!

Yes, some peo­ple who raid cloth­ing bins do use the cloth­ing for them­selves. Neigh­bours to the United Church Thrift Shop have watched peo­ple strip naked, put on fresh cloth­ing from the do­na­tion box, and throw their dirty laun­dry through the slot.

But the re­cent rash of thefts in­volves far more cloth­ing and house­hold goods than thieves could use for them­selves.

Purely by co­in­ci­dence, some­one ad­ver­tised (on a sale of second-hand cloth­ing in the park­ing lot of a lo­cal pub. But the pub man­ager as­sured me they knew noth­ing about it.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s no way of track­ing do­nated cloth­ing that hasn’t been pro­cessed by vol­un­teers in­side the store yet.

Dis­clo­sure: I am not im­par­tial about this story. The vol­un­teers in the United Church Thrift Shop are friends. With­out the rev­enues from the Thrift Shop, our church would have closed 30 years ago.

The shop also do­nates thou­sands of dol­lars ev­ery year to other com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

I re­al­ize this protest is fu­tile. I’m ex­pect­ing thieves to have ethics, and self-cen­tred jerks to have com­pas­sion for the less for­tu­nate. But un­less I protest, I’m con­don­ing their ac­tions.

So let’s quit pre­tend­ing that the peo­ple who raid do­na­tion boxes are some­how in­no­cent vic­tims of the char­i­ties’ care­less­ness. They’re thieves. Pe­riod.

Jim Tay­lor is an Okana­gan Cen­tre au­thor and free­lance jour­nal­ist. He can be reached at re­[email protected]

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