Installed in Nottingham in December, it contains water, food, hygiene items and books, and can be accessed by homeless people around the clock via key cards
It looks like an ordinary vending machine, but this one doesn’t only stock crisps, chocolate and sweets. Its shelves are lined with water, energy bars, sandwiches and fresh fruit – but socks, sanitary towels, books and toothbrushes too. And it’s not designed for commuters on the move, or gym-goers eyeing a quick snack, but to supply rough sleepers with essential items, around the clock, seven days a week.
The machine is a project by charity Action Hunger, whose team hopes to install more across the UK in 2018 before expanding to Europe and the US. It is thought to be the first vending machine of its kind in the UK. Use is exclusively limited to people in urgent need, and items are only accessible using key cards. The machine has been accessed 1,410 times in the past fortnight.
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In Nottingham, Action Hunger has partnered with a day centre for homeless people, The Friary, whose staff will give out the key cards to rough sleepers they know. The format – working with established partners with valuable local knowledge – will be replicated in future projects, with London, Manchester, Birmingham, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle all on the Action Hunger team’s wishlist.
“An important distinction is that Action Hunger is not seeking to supplant the incredible efforts of existing charities for the homeless that exist,” said founder, Huzaifah Khaled.
“We’re seeking to work in concert with them as a means for the homeless to access food and clothing 24/7. While preventative measures and government policies work to reduce the number of homeless people, we exist in the interim for their comfort and wellbeing.”
While preventative measures and government policies work to reduce the number of homeless people, we exist in the interim for their comfort and wellbeing
Khaled and his team has been staggering the release of the cards in Nottingham, but the initial data and feedback has been “very, very promising.”
“It’s been inspiring beyond measure to see the interest in our work from all corners of the world,” he told Positive News. “More importantly, the feedback from the men and women who’ve been using our service has been incredible – it’s really making a difference in their lives and it’s heartwarming to see our service being used exactly as designed.”
Homelessness comes in many forms, but the machine is primarily for rough sleepers. Sam Crawford, CEO of The Friary, explained: “Some people are homeless in other ways such as those in temporary accommodation, but we will be prioritising rough sleepers. It’s an innovative way in which food and provisions can be made available, out of hours, to people in need.”
Key cards are programmed to allow people to access up to three items per day, which Khaled explained has been designed to prevent total dependency on the machines: “We want our low-cost solution to complement other services that are available as engagement with professionals and local support services is instrumental to breaking the cycle of homelessness, and getting these men and women off the streets for good.”
It’s really making a difference in their lives and it’s heartwarming to see our service being used exactly as designed
Much of the food in the machine is sourced from redistribution charity FareShare. Action Hunger is also developing partnerships with supermarkets.
Images: Action Hunger