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Heartwarming concern for the homeless (or not)

September 23, 2014


Shopping carts are only designed for shopping but we all know that many people who live on the streets of Vancouver rely on them to serve as both their home and their home-based business. A shopping cart is where they keep all their worldly possessions and how they carry all the returnable drink containers they bin every day to earn some money.

The stores that own the carts make some effort to protect their property so any homeless person, or binner for that matter, looking for one of these clattering four-wheeled steel-wire or plastic conveyances is apt to take whatever they can find.

The shopping cart I found yesterday would’ve been a very tempting target. It was sitting by itself outside of its store but after store hours. Normally it wouldn’t have lasted two hours before it was repurposed it to a new life as some street person’s residence or place of business.

Only it had a very explicit sign taped to the handle — a warning as such.

 You can look but you don’t want to touch

The sign was blunt:

 “Cart. Do not use. Broken front right wheel”.

It could be seen as a helpful gesture to area street people on the part of the cart’s owner: the West Broadway location of a large multinational toy store chain (rhythms with “noise or fuss”).

Many a homeless person in Vancouver is already pushing one of this store’s blue, plastic-basket, shopping carts around town.

It was as though the store, knowing how inviting the cart might look, was trying to save some street person the grief of putting all their eggs in a basket with a wonky wheel.

But in fact, If the store had to leave this cart outside, for whatever reason, then this sign was the one surefire way to make street people lose interest in stealing it — a shopping cart is only as good as its wheels.

This store probably doesn’t care about homeless people one way or the other but it certainly doesn’t like their habit of taking shopping carts, which can cost several hundred dollars apiece.

For a time, some seven years ago, this particular store went to the trouble of adopted a deposit system in order to discourage people from walking off with shopping carts. It worked but there was an untended consequence.

An enterprising person could easily make over $10 an hour basically standing out front of the store. Customers brought their purchases out of the store in the carts, put the purchases in their cars and drove away. It was worth a dollar per cart to walk the carts back into the foyer of the store and simply nest them with another cart to get the deposit — way better than returnable beverage containers.

What’s the value of shopping carts?

I have never conducted either my homelessness or my binning using a shopping cart. I have stuck with a bicycle — lately with the addition of a bicycle trailer. And I have been fortunate enough to be able rent a storage locker.

But I’ve listened to other binners go on and on about this cart versus that cart and I dump my bottles into a shopping cart for faster  sorting when I cash them in at the Go Green bottle depot.

Putting aside innovations like tying garbage bags off the sides of the cart or piling it up with boxes or bags, shopping carts filled with returnable beverage containers don’t hold all that much value.

The basket of an average-sized supermarket trolley, like the one pictured above, holds maybe $10-worth of cans and bottles, while the basket of a larger “big-box” store model can hold perhaps a third again as much. The carts used by provincial liquor stores are pretty small. You might be able to cram enough returnable bottles and cans in the basket to get a large specialty coffee or a few tall cans of beer. Click the image to enlarge it.

From → Binning, Fairview

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