Hamilton manufacturer modifies 6K donation bins across Canada following death

After a homeless woman died inside a clothing donation bin produced by Rangeview Fabricating Inc. the company launched a nationwide effort to retrofit their products to prevent future tragedies.

Completing the retrofitting is expected to cost Rangeview Fabricating around $80K

John Luison, owner of Rangeview Fabricating Inc. in Hamilton, says his company has made safety modifications to more than 6,000 clothing donation bins so far. (CBC)

After a homeless woman became trapped and died inside a clothing donation bin produced by his company, John Luison and his staff launched a nationwide effort to retrofit their products to prevent future tragedies.

Just 10 days later, the owner of Hamilton's Rangeview Fabricating Inc. says they're about 90 per cent of the way there, with more than 6,000 bins modified to date.

"It's really, really looking good," he said. "I thought this thing would take six months to a year, but are you kidding? We'll literally be done in weeks."

A woman believed to be in her 30s and only identified by her first name, Crystal, was found inside one of the company's bins in Toronto on Jan. 8. A body was also found inside a donation bin in Cambridge, Ont. in November, though it's not clear if the bin was built by Rangeview.

Less than 48 hours after the incident, Louison announced Rangeview was halting production of that specific model of bin and would be building containers without anti-theft bars for any outstanding orders.

The company also sent out a video tutorial to its charity partners explaining how to disconnect the bars.

That means the weather flaps intended to keep out the elements will hang loose, but it also offers anyone who climbs inside a bin the chance to get back out.

"Basically you could say what we're doing is leaving the doors open now," explained Luison.

Driving hours to modify bins

Retrofitting thousands of bins across the country is a massive effort and one Luison says wouldn't be possible without the cooperation of the charities his company works with.

Among those leading the charge is Diabetes Canada, which pledged to prevent any injuries or deaths from trying to enter its bins despite the fact no one has been hurt while using one of them as intended.

suddenly in this last year it seems like our homelessness situation has gotten pathetic.-John Luison, Rangeview Fabricating Inc.

On Thursday the charity announced safety modifications to 4,000 bins across Canada were on schedule to be completed by the end of the week.

"Diabetes Canada remains committed to improving safety and will explore further bin design improvements within its operations as they become available from clothing donation bin manufacturers and engineers," wrote spokesperson Kathleen Powderley in a media release.

Rangeview supplies more than 30 per cent of the donation bins used in Canada, according to Luison. All of the company's bins in B.C. have been modified and the owner said he'll fly to Alberta Monday to help crews reach even the most remote donation containers.

"I've got one guy who drove seven hours yesterday just to get to his next stop, through Kamloops and Penticton and all those places," he explained.

How one manufacturer is trying to make bins safer

3 years ago
Duration 0:32
A Hamilton, Ont., manufacturer is making its clothing donation bins safer by removing the anti-theft bars. 0:32

Rangeview is footing the bill for travel and material costs, which Luison estimates could total around $80,000. But, he said, some charities are absorbing even bigger costs.

Despite those efforts, Luison said beyond eliminating risks that could happen through misuse or mishandling, his company can only do so much to keep vulnerable people safe.

Desperation is the real danger

The real threat is homelessness and the desperation it leads to, he said.

"We can't fix that desperation and it seems those situations are getting worse," he said, pointing to rising rents, addiction issues and mental health struggles as examples. "We had the same product out for 25 years and all of a sudden in this last year it seems like our homelessness situation has gotten pathetic."

Luison acknowledges his company is just one donation bin manufacturer, but he's hopeful others will follow Rangeview's lead.

He's worked with charities for decades, but said it took the past week to really open his eyes to the issues people living on the streets in Canada are facing.

"I was never a homeless advocate. I'm just a manufacturer … and now I'm the first guy to yell and scream about how pathetic the situation is out there and that we have to do something."