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Profiting Off Poverty And Homelessness

You can spend $2000 on a vacation to live like the homeless in Seattle including partaking in a meal at a soup kitchen. You can shell out $700 for new sneakers that look old, that make you look impoverished. And you can buy clothing from a Toronto manufacturer that says homeless along with an accompanying tin cup that reads, 'Change Please'. Maybe it's a homeless starter kit?

For years, decades even, retail has been rife with offensive products and poor judgement. Take Zara's striped t-shirt that resembles the uniform of a Holocaust prisoner, Urban Outfitters retro Kent State t-shirt splattered with red stains resembling blood, a line of 'Breaking Bad' figurines for sale at children's retailer Toys R Us, and Bic's line of pens - the 'Bic Cristal For Her' - in pastel colours including pink and turquoise.

Is there ever a time that these products are just a publicity stunt or advertising gimmick? Are manufacturers and consumers desensitized to the issues of poverty and homelessness? Do people, like those fortunate enough to afford shopping at Nordstrom's, just not care about the less fortunate?

In 'Good Corporation, Bad Corporation: Corporate Social Responsibility in the Global Economy' by Guillermo C. Jimenez and Elizabeth Pulos, it is suggested that ‘Advertisers sometimes take the risk of shocking the public... because they are seeking to break through the communications clutter of modern life. In order to attract the public’s attention, advertisers may resort to appeals and tactics of questionable taste.'

Our role as a service provider - now 86 years and running - and an advocate includes addressing and shaping policies and, in the process, reducing the stereotypes and stigma of poverty and homelessness. Included is our occasional reporting on products and campaigns that display an insensitivity to and disregard for poverty and homelessness.

We looked into three products from the past three years - items that we first reported on during their debut - consumer goods that used poverty and homelessness as the brand or the product. Looking back we asked, 'Where are they now?'

Homeless Toronto produced 'Homeless' t-shirts and 'Change Please' tin cups. Within weeks of the product launch, followed by media and public backlash, their promotional page on Facebook stopped posting. The one Toronto charity they reporting being aligned with distanced themselves from the brand. Today, the website's link to place an order is dead.

Golden Goose Superstar Taped Sneakers were available for $700 at Nordstrom. The running shoes looked worn, the wearer impoverished, with tape across the toes as if it's holding the sneakers together. The shoes are no longer available.

Seattle entrepreneur, Mike Momany offered 'Applied Homelessness' vacation packages for $2000 US that included the chance to "live like the homeless". The package included a guided tour of impoverished neighbourhoods, a night of homelessness and dining in a soup kitchen. Early reports claim no consumer had taken up the offer. The tour booking website is now a gambling blog website.

There is a shopping alternative. #ShopAndShare Our online store highlights products most often needed by clients, including underwear and footwear. Your purchase will be shared with elder men impacted by poverty, homelessness and isolation. You will receive a tax receipt and the knowledge that you are making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.




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