The Cart of the Matter

Posted on: January 26, 2021
Shopping Carts form lifelines to personal history, ownership and safety of possessions

For many years, the homeless in our community and others have used Shopping Carts to store, transport and hold their personal effects. Recently, I have been privy to a number of discussions regarding a renewed push to recover Carts for local businesses, from whom they were taken.This is not a new conversation, in fact over the years it has raised its head again and again. Regardless of which side of the issue you are on, I beg your indulgence as I lay out the issue on both sides, then suggest some solutions.

1) The Homeless – a case for Cart use and retention.

Many homeless individuals utilize shopping carts for all of their personal possessions. They store personal photos, valuables and the basics for life in the small three foot by two foot space. In essence, the shopping cart becomes their home base, storage locker, and transportation. The psychological needs of safety and security are also essential links to the cart, due to its often very personal cargo such as personal effects, food, and other items. The added benefit of shopping carts is that they are light, easily transportable, and can be easily stored for retrieval.

2) Cart Recovery, the case for returning carts to Shop owners.

shopping Cart grouped behind a NS business, waiting for repair.

Shop Owners often put everything they have into running their businesses. On the North Shore, eighty eight percent of our business are owner operated, meaning the owner lives and works here in our community. Shopping carts are most often used by our larger businesses. On the Shore that includes Independent Grocers, Safeway, Save-on Foods, Nu-Leaf Produce Market, and a hand full of other retailers. For these business owners, shopping carts have a large impact. Each cart costs an average of 250.00. One business owner I spoke with last week identified that the missing and damaged carts costs him about $7,000.00 per year. This is money that can’t go into wages for staff, or improving the storefront.

The Conundrum.

Both sides are right.

Yes, the carts should be returned to the business that owns them. Yes, the homeless have a need for security for their possessions. Herein lays the quandary. How do we honour the needs of both parties without creating a chaotic round of finger pointing, blaming and dissension? Some would have us upend the carts, seize them and return them to the stores. How does that build community? How does that create a positive outcomes and maintain dignity?

I’ve been discussing this issue over the last few weeks with a variety of community leaders seeking a solution. What is clear is we all agree that there are positives and negatives on both sides of the issue.  However, like so many of our social issues at this time, there is no clear solution.

Loose shopping cart at retailer lot.

What is being worked on?

The City are working on more storage options for personal effects, this includes being able to keep an individuals items safe for a period of time, following which the individual would be expected to “check in.”

We are working with our outreach teams to seek ways to both educate those on the street about their options (housing, storage etc) while also seeking options to recover carts, over time.

At the NSBIA, we are working with our members to discuss strategies for maintaining their property, including consumer locking systems for the carts, regular lot sweeps, and locking loose carts up over night.

On the consumer front its important to always return your cart to the locking compound, to slide it in and re-chain to reduce removal.

For community, when you find an empty cart call TLC Cart Recovery at 250.574.3364 or the originating store, and they will arrange pick up.

For full carts we will be working with our Agency partners to seek solutions which finds the best balance between all sides on the issue, in a collaborative, respectful and positive manner. If you want to contact ASK street Outreach at any time, try 250.299.5038.

There is no simple solution, like so many of our social challenges today. However, by working together we can seek solutions which can positively effect community for all.

If you have any thoughts you would like to share regarding this or any other story you read, please feel free to reach out to: