The pouring of water around two homeless men outside a Tim Hortons franchise by someone from the coffee shop was cruel and unnecessary, says a longtime Vancouver advocate for the homeless, who also encourages the company to be careful in how it handles the incident.

"I was horrified ... I didn't want to believe it," said Judy Graves after it was discovered someone with the downtown Robson café poured water under the two men while they were sleeping last Friday morning.

"It's been such a wet week, and everybody who is living outside is soaked right through to the skin ... and really have no way to dry out. To throw cold water into that situation is pretty cruel."

Graves, now retired, was the advocate for the homeless at Vancouver City Hall for more than two decades, often spending nights on the street to connect with people who needed help.

Tim Hortons launched an internal investigation after reports of the incident became widespread on Twitter and Facebook, and called on a boycott of the Robson Street Tim Hortons location.

Tim Hortons store

A Vancouver woman has started an online campaign to boycott this Tim Hortons store after someone from the store threw water around two homeless men. (CBC)

Graves urges the company to be careful about how it speaks about people "living rough," especially with its own employees.

"Very rare that someone working at lower levels of a company will not be reflecting attitude of the higher level of the company."

In an emailed statement, Tim Hortons has apologized and said the incident did not reflect company values. It said the franchise owner will make a "meaningful donation" to Belkin house, a Vancouver shelter.

'Not that hard' to ask homeless person to move

A Vancouver shelter operator said the donation is a step in the right direction.

"It will help a lot of people out that one donation. At the same time, they can reach out to organizations like ourselves to find out where they can refer someone," said Bill Briscall of Raincity Housing.

Businesses that want a homeless person to move from their storefronts have more compassionate options, said Graves.

She suggested calling the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association to get one of their patrolling "downtown ambassadors" to talk to that person, or setting a time when he or she agrees to move on.

"If you're as polite with the person living on the street as you are with anyone else, they're pretty responsive. I don't think it's really that hard," said Graves.

With files from Meera Bains