UBC Okanagan engineering students have solved a problem that took several lives and cost Canadian charities thousands of dollars of lost income – unsafe clothing donation bins.
The students have been working on the problem since early in 2019, after the latest case of an unfortunate person being found dead inside one of the bins, which used to be a common sight around Lower Mainland cities.
Pitt Meadows was one of the cities that banned the bins in January 2019. It was a move praised by Loretta Sundstrom, whose daughter Anita Hauck was killed when her neck became stuck in a clothing bin at Meadowtown Centre in Pitt Meadows on Sept. 28, 2015.
Hauck died of anoxic brain injury, caused by asphyxiation, according to a coroner’s report.
Hauck had lived on the streets for parts of her life in Maple Ridge, was an advocate for homeless people, and the Anita Place Tent City was named for her.
Charities across Vancouver pulled their clothing donation bins off the street after a number of people had climbed inside the bins and died.
Big Brothers Vancouver said pulling the bins cost the organization about $500,000. The donation bin industry is a multi-million dollar enterprise across North America, raising funds for charitable organizations including the Salvation Army, Diabetes Canada, Big Brothers and Sisters, Goodwill and many others.
UBCO School of Engineering instructor Ray Taheri had students to come up with a way to modify the bins and make them safer.
They found most deaths happened within a few hundred yards of a homeless shelter, and took place between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.
The students came up with a number of solutions, including suggestions about where the bins should be located, timed self-locking features, and a sensor to alert the organization they were almost full.
“We ended up with a number of different models and eventually settled on four prototypes – each a little bit different,” said Taheri. “Some will come with more bells and whistles, some will be a very basic model. But, definitely, they are a much safer than what we had in the past.”
The Salvation Army is looking at having nearly 180 of the newly retrofitted bins back into the community over the coming weeks and months. He credits the engineers for ‘stepping up’ and not ignoring a chronic and dangerous issue.