Loretta Sundstrom with a photo of her daughter Anita, who died after getting trapped in a clothing donation bin in 2015. (THE NEWS/files)

Pitt Meadows bans clothing donation bins

Anita’s mother grateful for “slow change” in getting rid of bins that killed her daughter

Pitt Meadows council has banned clothing donations bins, which have been responsible for eight deaths across Canada in the last three years.

Pitt Meadows is now the fourth city in B.C. to ban the bins, after council approved a motion at a regular meeting on Tuesday “That council, direct staff to seek the immediate removal of all clothing donation bins within City of Pitt Meadows limits, and that City of Pitt Meadows place a temporary ban on all clothing bins within the city limits until such time as clothing bins are determined as no longer posing a threat to public safety.”

“I think that’s great. I think it’s about time,” said 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.

After another recent death, Sundstrom said she could not believe the bins are still allowed to be used. She is glad some cities are taking action.

Three cities in B.C. have already banned the donations bins: Richmond Burnaby and West Vancouver.

Those municipal bans followed a man’s body being found in a bin on New Year’s Eve in a West Vancouver park.

“It’s a slow change, but it’s something,” Sundstrom said.

She added that the bins need to be “safe for everyone,” with the number of homeless people in every B.C. community it should be anticipated people will try to break into the bins to get warm, dry and clean clothing.

“These are people who have absolutely nothing.”

Maple Ridge does not yet have a ban on the bins, and city staff are consulting with local groups that use the bins.

Sundstrom asks that people take their clothing donations to charities with storefronts, such as the Salvation Army or Value Village.

“What were they doing before we had those bins?” she asked.

If not banned in Maple Ridge, she said the bins should be left unlocked until a design change can be made. The donations are freely made, so there is no real loss to the charity organizations that lose a few items of clothes, she said.

“They should make it accessible to who need it.”

Pitt Meadows city staff noted there are two bins in the city, one near the train station, and one at a private business, at Hopcott’s property. Both companies have indicated they will remove or modify their bins, so that they are “a straight chute.”

But councillors preferred a straight ban at this time.

Mayor Bill Dingwall asked who certifies that there is no danger from these bins?

“On our watch, in Pitt Meadows, we can’t have that again, ever, ever,” said Dingwall.

He added that “We are dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” who are seeking warmth and safety.

Coun. Anena Simpson asked that if the bins can be easily changed to be made safe, why have they not been already? She also suggested she knew of a third bin at another location. Staff agreed to make another sweep of the city.

A poll by Research Co. has found seven in 10 British Columbians are in favour of a ban on the bins.

The most recent death was Jan. 8 when a Toronto woman was stuck inside a bin.

According to a coroner’s report, Hauck was seen by a store employee at approximately 9:30 p.m. with her legs sticking out of the donation bin. She was kicking her legs, and the employee believed she was trying to get further into the bin. An hour later, the same employee “saw the female hanging out of the bin, but she was no longer moving.”

The employee called 911, and Hauck was found to be without a pulse and in cardiac arrest. She died the next day in Royal Columbian Hospital.

At that time, the coroner reported: “Management of the donation bin company reported that they were in the process of working on a design change to make it more difficult for individuals to get inside the bins.”

Coun. Tracy Miyashita noted groups will pick up clothing donations by appointment, and these include:

• Big Brothers Big Sisters: Visit bigbrothersvancouver.com or call 604-526-2447.

• Diabetes Canada: Call 1-800-505-5525.

• Developmental Disabilities: Visit develop.bc.ca or call 604-273-9778.

The city is also suggesting donations be dropped off at:

• Value Village: 11998 207 Street Unit 4, Maple Ridge.

• Ridge Meadows Hospice Gift Store: 12011 224 Street Maple Ridge or call 604-463-7711.

• Cythera Donation Centre: #101 – 22255 Dewdney Trunk Road, Maple Ridge or call 604-467-4671.

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