Some clothing donation bins are bing removed after the death of a homeless man last month, but more are still on the streets. (Contributed)

Death in clothing bin brings back tragedy for Anita’s mother

People still dying in the same way as Maple Ridge’s homeless spokesperson

Anita’s mother was heartsick to learn that a 34-year-old homeless man died in a clothing donations bin on Dec. 30 in West Vancouver.

Anita Hauck, the homeless woman whom Anita Place Tent City was named for, died in a similar way, trapped while trying to get clothes out of a donation bin in Pitt Meadows.

Her mother couldn’t drive to some businesses in Maple Ridge, because she would still see those bins.

Hauck’s mother, Loretta Sundstrom, said she learned about last Sunday’s fatality on the Facebook page for Anita Place Tent City.

“My heart and prayers go out to his family and friends,” she said. “I do know what they are going through.”

At her home in Maple Ridge, she talked about how the thought of another person dying that way affected her.

“It brought tears to my eyes. I can’t believe it. How long do we have to put up with this?

“Something should have been done when the first life was taken.”

Her daughter was homeless and addicted to drugs, but she was also an outspoken advocate for the homeless in Maple Ridge, and before her death was lobbying city hall for a homeless camp.

Sundstrom recalled her daughter coming home, with a shopping cart loaded with garbage bags full of clothes.

“I said, ‘Where did you get all these clothes?’ She said: ‘You don’t want to know mom. I need to use your washing machine.’”

Hauck did six loads of laundry, folding the clothes, and said simply she was giving them to people who needed them.

“It may not be the right way to get it, but they are in need. They are cold. They are wet,” said Sundstrom.

“Anita did it for other people. She always had a heart of gold.”

Other homeless people gave her a nickname.

“She said, ‘You know what mom, for some reason some people are calling me mom.’”

She found it fitting the homeless camp was named for her daughter.

“I thought it was an honour to her.”

Hauck died on Sept. 28, at the age of 45, the day after she was found trapped inside a clothing donations bin at the Meadowtown Centre in Pitt Meadows.

A police officer came to Sundstrom’s door and told her Anita was not conscious, but was on life support in Royal Columbian Hospital. She learned there was a chance that, if Anita survived, she would have life-changing brain damage. Her mother and sister Karen were with her when she passed away. She was the youngest of Sundstrom’s five children, and a mother of five herself.

“She was the baby. She was spoiled, and I don’t think she knew how much she was loved.”

Sundstrom said Anita had once been pulled into a van and raped by seven men in Vancouver. She had been at the PNE with friends. She was just 15 at the time, and never the same person afterwards.

She even questioned whether her mother still loved her.

“I knew she was doing drugs, because she wouldn’t come home. People would call me and say, ‘I saw Anita. She looks bad, but she’s alive.’”

People in social media have made crass comments about the recent death, said Sundstrom, as if a homeless person trying to take donated clothing deserves their fate.

“I believe he went in [the bin] because he was cold and wet, and he needed something warm and dry.

“I just wish people would understand that sometimes homeless people don’t have a chance. They just want food, they want someplace warm and people to say ‘Hello, how are you?”

Inclusion B.C. announced this week that it will be pulling 146 clothing donations bins off the streets after the most recent death.

Still, there are multiple agencies that own the bins and collect clothing donations, and just one has so far gone public with a decision to remove theirs. There are an estimated 2,000 bins in B.C.

There have been seven deaths across Canada involving clothing donation bins since 2015, and five have been in B.C. The B.C. Coroner’s Service is still investigating four of the five deaths.

“I’m always upset when I see these bins in business parking lots,” said Chris Bossley, who volunteers as an advocate for Maple Ridge’s homeless population. “It’s very irresponsible to have these bins when they have caused deaths.

“If this were happening to any other segment of the population, this would have been dealt with after the first incident.”

It demonstrates that “social condition” should be included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under equality rights, alongside race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, sex, age and physical and mental disability, said Bossley.

Prof. Ray Taheri of the school of engineering at UBC’s Okanagan campus assigned his first-year students a project to redesign the containers or come up with a way to retrofit existing ones, which appeared to be the better option.

Various organizations in the Vancouver area use different types of bins and Taheri has looked at all of them.

“Definitely, the designs on all of the bins I’ve seen, they do not accommodate for ‘What if someone tries to get inside?’” he said.

– with files from Canadian Press

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