Manitoba

Danger of donation bins 'turns the stomach': Manitoba charities looking to improve safety after deaths

Some Manitoba charitable organizations are taking a closer look at the way they collect clothing donations after two people were found dead inside metal drop-off bins in the last week.

Modifications being made to some bins to improve safety, prevent people from getting inside

This bin outside Union Gospel Mission on Princess Street was modified to prevent the clothing chute from opening fully and keep people from reaching inside the bin. (Submitted by Frank Ulrich)

Some Manitoba charitable organizations are taking a closer look at the way they collect clothing donations after two people were found dead inside metal drop-off bins in recent weeks.

"It's very concerning, very disturbing to think that somebody could be trapped inside," said Frank Ulrich, executive director at Union Gospel Mission in Winnipeg.

"It turns the stomach."

A woman was found dead inside a Toronto donation bin on Tuesday. In Vancouver, a man was found dead in a bin on Dec. 30.

Since 2015, eight Canadians have died after becoming trapped in the bins.

While no injuries or deaths have been reported at any of the Union Gospel Mission's "toss boxes," Ulrich said the faith-based charity will be looking at ways to improve safety and prevent similar situations from happening.

He said modifications were made three months ago to two of the city's donation bins, after there were some incidents of people trying to access goods inside.

"The challenge is that unfortunately, sometimes people, for various reasons, might try to access the clothing inside," Ulrich said.

Frank Ulrich, executive director of Union Gospel Mission in Winnipeg, says people may be driven by desperation or addiction to try to get inside clothing donation bins. (Submitted by Frank Ulrich)

"Either trying to pry them open or trying to access the clothing by getting the upper part of their body inside of the toss boxes through the clothing chute."

The two problem bins were equipped with better locks. A mechanism was also installed on one bin to prevent the door from being opened fully, preventing people from reaching inside.

'Hurt by the system'

Ulrich said the toss box program has been in operation for several years and there has never been an issue with people trying to get inside the bins, but people who are desperate often aren't thinking about their safety.

"I think what's often driving this behaviour is addiction, which isn't always rational and logical."

Some organizations that collect used clothing through donation bins, like this Union Gospel Mission 'toss box,' are looking to make changes after recent deaths. (Submitted by Frank Ulrich)

Union Gospel Mission has about 30 to 45 bins throughout southern Manitoba, Ulrich said, and the clothing collected gets sorted and distributed to those who need it without charge.

He said it's troubling to think the people the mission is trying to help with the donation bins could fall victim to one.

"The people that we're distributing the donated clothing to would also often oftentimes be the individuals that are finding themselves in a situation where they're getting hurt by the system."

Diabetes Canada modifying bins

Other organizations that operate drop-off bins are also looking at their safety.

Diabetes Canada, which has bins around Canada — including in Manitoba — announced last week that it will be making adjustments to all 4,000 of its bins across the country.

"Although death or injury related to the misuse of clothing donation bins is not common, we feel that if there is an opportunity to prevent this type of tragic incident, we must make every effort to find a solution," the organization said in a press release.

Over 240 bins in Ontario have already been modified and the rest should be completed by Jan. 18, Diabetes Canada said Tuesday.

Neither of the recent deaths were connected to Diabetes Canada bins.

A representative of the Salvation Army Thrift Store, which also uses donation bins to collect goods for its stores, said caution labels will also be placed on their bins to raise awareness about their proper use.

Modifications being made to some bins to improve safety, prevent people from getting inside. 1:59

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