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Tim Hortons in double-double trouble after soaking street person

February 8, 2015


If this doesn’t just take the cake doughnut! A post on the Georgia Straight’s blog reports that in downtown Vancouver on Friday, February 6, someone — apparently a Tim Hortons employee — deliberately soaked a homeless person and their dog with water in an attempt to get them to move away from the front of the store.

Whatever else the water “attack” was supposed to accomplish, it managed to shock several passers-by and made this particular Tim Hortons location on Robson Street look as cold and heartless as the act itself.

Not surprisingly, Tim Hortons has now reportedly issued an apology. I don’t know the substance of the apology, perhaps something about being sorry there are so many homeless people panhandling in front of their locations?

What we have here is a failure to communicate

If the objective was really to just get the homeless person to move on, rather than “teach them a lesson”, then the Tim Hortons employee had far better options than just throwing water on the person. They could’ve called a Downtown Ambassador security patrol to come by and speak to the homeless person. Or if the person was aggressively panhandling or otherwise being disruptive to customers then the employee could certainly have called the police.

I seriously doubt that throwing water on street people is in the Tim Hortons’ employee manual and it’s a fact that the Downtown Business Improvement Association alone is spending over a million dollars a year on the Downtown Ambassadors program and security in general, just so store employees don’t feel the need to stupidly take matters into their own hands like this employee did.

A passive-aggressive kind of physical assault

Dumping water on a homeless person, especially if it’s done without any warning, just looks like you’re kicking someone when they’re down.

And if you think about it, you’ll realize that it can be a very aggressive and hurtful thing to do.

If this was a typical February, with typical steady rain and single digit temperatures, pouring cold water on a homeless person would, to my mind, constitute physical assault as it would put a person at real risk of suffering hypothermia.

At the very least, soaking a homeless person’s sleeping bag and/or blankets (as was deliberately done in this case) effectively ruins them. On wet, low-temperature days things like blankets take forever to dry out and sleeping bags often just won’t.

But when push comes to shove, I’ve shoved

That said, I — a homeless person — have threatened to pour water on another homeless person and I have aggressively ejected several slobs from sleeping spots.

In the two years that I worked as a custodian at the Vancouver Masonic Centre I had to discourage a few people from sleeping rough on the property.

Back in 2008, I stopped my homeless friend R from trying to camp in a hedge-screened alcove in the front of the centre. I explained to him that one of the building society directors was in the habit of snooping around the building at 5 a.m. and that particular alcove was one of the places where he always looked.

An early morning encounter between the paranoid building director and the equally paranoid homeless heroin addict could only have ended badly.

I gave my friend alternatives but he just stomped off, declaring that it was a fine day when one homeless person stopped another homeless person from sleeping somewhere.

But that happens all the time.

Kicking the homeless out of sleeping spots is a shitty thing to do

I later had to literally wage war on my friend Jerry who had slept in the Masonic Centre’s two-level parkade since about 2004, some four years before I was hired.

He had spent a lot of that time writing his life story on the parkade walls in Polish, his native tongue.

What little of the content I could understand clearly suggested a cathartic act of documentation and I considered it quite trivial. Eventually when I could wrest from the building management the enormous sums necessary to buy a can of paint, I covered as much of the script as I could with neat, sharp-edged squares of concrete-grey.

By that time however, Jerry wasn’t sleeping in the Masonic Centre parkade anymore. I had kicked him out after work began on repairing the top floor of the centre’s two-level parkade.

The building management had watched the top floor of the parkade erode for some 13 years until quite a lot of rebar was exposed. The repair work, when it finally came in 2009, was intensive and disruptive.

The floor was supposed to be an even two-inches thick but jack-hammering workers discovered that it was little more than an inch thick in many places.

The people parking in the level below only noticed the chunks of concrete ceiling that began raining down on their cars.

So, for the duration of the repair work, the bottom level of the parkade was closed to cars.

But not, at first, to Jerry, who immediately brought in folding lawn chairs and made the bottom parking level his 24-hour campsite. He also made it his bathroom.

When I discovered that he was shitting in the corners — and after it became clear that he wouldn’t stop — I calmly explained to him that if he couldn’t at least learn to use a box like any self-respecting cat, then I would have to make him leave. At nine dollars an hour I wasn’t being paid enough to take that kind of crap. I had my hands full cleaning up the actual bathrooms after the way some of the elderly Masons used them.

I found that you could only call the police a handful of times before they refused to show up. They explained that it was the building’s problem and that we should discourage Jerry by daily throwing away any possessions that he left in the parkade.

I didn’t want to add to the deprivations of an already severely deprived person; I just wanted him to behave like a human being or sleep somewhere else.

It took about two weeks for Jerry to get the point and get out. He and I are still friendly with one another.

Towards the end of 2009 I found someone trying to sleep rough in the freshly refurbished upper parkade level. The fellow was trying to camp by the entrance to the building and he was very messy.

When I told him that he needed to tear apart his cigarette butts over paper and clean up after himself and not leave anything behind, well, he just started swearing at me.

I then calmly explained that I was going to come back with a 20 kg pail of warm water to clean up the spot where he was making a mess. If he was still in that spot when I came back then he’d get wet.

He was goggle-eyed when he saw me come back with a big pail of water and he quickly gathered up his stuff up and left.

True to my word, I used the warm water and a broom to clean up the mess he left.

I have also physically ejected homeless people that I caught leaving messes in my own sleeping spots.

A little more understanding on both sides, please

I understand many of the reasons why people don’t want to seriously think about homelessness — and I say this in reference to both homeless people and not-homeless people.

Each group has a general tendency to want to see the other group as aliens.

Homeless people who do think about their situation always come to the realization that they still have connections and social obligations to the people around them and to the private property owners that they rely on for their shelter and often their livelihood.

The store employee who poured the water on the homeless person clearly wasn’t thinking how serious the consequences could be for all concerned: for themselves, their employer and the homeless person getting doused.

I believe that if this employee had stopped to think first — had put themselves in the homeless person’s shoes — they would’ve been able to imagine the potential harm they were about to inflict on another human being.

But at that moment, holding that pail of water, they were probably too angry or frustrated to be so empathetic.

Apparently sometimes the only thing people feel about homelessness is that there isn’t a big enough pail of water in the whole world to just wash us all into the gutter and be done with it.

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