The company has since apologized and stated that the owner of the store involved will make a "meaningful donation" to Belkin House, a Vancouver shelter. People have taken to social media to boycott the store but is there something more productive those people and Tim Hortons could do to actually make an impact in the lives of homeless people?
It's all too common with incidents like this one that they get a lot of attention briefly and then are all but forgotten. The mistreatment of homeless people isn't an isolated incident, which makes it even more important that this incident serve as a catalyst for real change. If this angers you, boycotting the store won't help homeless people. Instead donate to homeless shelters, volunteer, donate food or put together care packages to donate to homeless people in your community.
Rosa's Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia recently made headlines for what they were doing for the homeless people in their community. The pay-it-forward pizza program is simple: People donate $1, the cost of a slice of pizza and a post-it note gets placed on the wall. A homeless person can walk in, take a post-it note and exchange it for a free slice of pizza. After customers bought 500 slices of pizza, the store had to change its policy a bit to keep track. However, the premise is still the same, and they've given over 8000 slices of pizza to homeless people. Tim Hortons could set up a similar program or even just offer free coffee. In addition, consumers could purchase gift cards to hand out to homeless people or even offer to buy a meal to someone sitting outside.
Making a donation to a homeless shelter as a means to help rectify a terrible action is a nice gesture, however making repeated donations just because it's a kind thing to do will go much farther in proving the values of the company. There are homeless shelters all over Canada that are likely in need of funding and support. Tim Hortons could place donation jars in all of their locations or donate a portion of their proceeds to homeless shelters in various communities.
It isn't uncommon for companies to organize team building events and activities as a way to build community at work. Tim Hortons could place an emphasis on volunteering and employees could get together once a month to volunteer together at local shelters.
Thousands of people make a visit to Tim Hortons each day for their morning coffee. This gives them a huge opportunity to give a great cause some exposure. They could consider hosting food drives or warm clothing drives. The items could then be donated to local shelters. In addition, even just raising awareness about the need to be compassionate toward the homeless community could make a major impact.
It sounds simple, but asking a person their name gives them an identity and gives you the opportunity to see them as a person, not simply as a burden on society. I Have a Name Project is an organization that serves to do just that. They hope to remind people that homeless people are humans with identities and they deserve to be respected. Next time you see a homeless person, instead of rushing to judgement or ignoring them, consider that they are people too.
While some people are well aware of where the shelters are, some others may not be. In addition, not all shelters allow people to stay overnight or allow men. Tim Hortons could compile a list of shelters and various other community resources that could be handed out to homeless people. For someone who is recently homeless, the act of compassion and the valuable resources could be a huge help and source of encouragement.
Tim Hortons already has a foundation for children and has given out scholarships in the past, so it may be an easy transition to add homeless children to the list of children their foundation serves. According to Covenant House, Canada's largest homeless youth agency, in Toronto alone there are roughly 2,000 homeless youth on the streets on any given night. They often lack education, life skills and stability which can make their futures seem hopeless. Programs specifically dedicated to homeless children and youth can make a huge impact on their lives and the community as a whole.
Supporting shelters and donating items to people who are homeless is great but working to prevent homelessness is even better. There are several initiatives and programs that strive to help prevent homelessness. Housing First is once such initiative that has had proven results. Housing First is recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that gained in popularity in New York in the '90s. Similar programs have started in Canada like HouseLink Toronto. HouseLink helps provide permanent housing to the homeless and other marginalized individuals. Donations can greatly help them continue to serve the homeless community.
Sleeping outside during a Canadian winter isn't just uncomfortable, it's dangerous. Donating a sleeping bag, a tent or even just a warm pair of gloves could be life saving for a person who lives on the streets. Tim Hortons could donate their own branded merchandise or start a campaign to raise money to buy sleeping bags for homeless people in the community.
Setting up a portable heater and a coffee station outside of each Tim Hortons store could offer the company an opportunity to show their communities how they really think homeless people outside their stores should be treated. It may also send the message to the community that homeless people aren't a burden or a hindrance to their business. A tagline on their website reads, "We're serving the neighborhood. And you can too." This gesture would surely put those words into action.
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