NOV 30, 2017 03:13 PM PST

Vending Machines Serve the Homeless in the UK

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Individuals who are “sleeping rough” on the streets of Nottingham, England will be receiving extra support this winter in the form of specialized vending machines. The machines are provided by the charity Action Hunger, which aims to alleviate “poverty and hardship amongst the homeless.” People who are homeless can access the machines with a key card and retrieve day-to-day necessities such as clothing, food and personal care products.


Action Hunger vending machine and card, credit: Action Hunger

According to the organization, the current list of items distributed by the machines includes “water, fresh fruit, energy bars, crisps, chocolate, sandwiches, socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste combination packs, and books.” The homeless can retrieve a key card from an outreach center Action Hunger has partnered with called The Friary.

The food comes from donations from grocery stores, shops and charities -- the FareShare charity has provided half of the vending machines items so far. Other products like socks and toiletries are purchased by Action Hunger.

The machines are accessible 24 hours a day and are meant to support those struggling with homelessness during the hours when shelters and other organizations may be closed. The card grants the user access to three items daily, and Action Hunger explains they envision the vending machines as a complementary, not comprehensive, service for the homeless, who should also receive other local support services while working to break the cycle of homelessness.

"We will be prioritizing rough sleepers. Not everyone who visits us is a rough sleeper, some are homeless in other ways such as those in temporary accommodation,” said Sam Crawford, CEO of the Friary.

There are about 307,000 individuals who are homeless in the UK and that number has risen over 10,000 in the past year, according to a study carried out by a charity called Shelter. Shelter received a call from someone asking for assistance every 22 seconds before the winter holidays last year and has recruited extra advisors to the homeless for this season. 

Nottingham is the hometown of Founder Huzaifah Khaled. He was unsure of how to help the growing homeless population he encountered locally. When the inspiration for the vending machines came to him, it took him about a year to bring the concept to fruition. In 2018 and beyond, Action Hunger hopes to install more machines in Manchester, London and Birmingham. They’ve also got their eye on international expansion, including to New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Homelessness remains a serious issue in the U.S. – according to a 2016 report, on a single night in Jan. 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness.

“My ultimate hope for Action Hunger is for our idea to take root in cities all over the world, and for the homeless to have a lifeline to rely on while government policies work toward ending homelessness for once and for all," Khaled told CNN.

Action Hunger images, credit: Action Hunger

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
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