UK charity vends hope

Homelessness is a major problem throughout the world today. While exact numbers are difficult to track, the Institute of Global Homelessness cites a report from the United Nations stating that as many as 100 million individuals worldwide are without permanent shelter, and one billion have inadequate shelter.

Action Hunger, a non-profit based in Nottingham, England, wants to help alleviate this problem by providing vending machines for homeless persons. The program works with a local shelter called the Friary to provide additional assistance. Each machine functions as a standard vending machine, except instead of providing sugary and salty snacks, it dispenses nutritious food, clothing and personal hygiene items. Future machines will have their own partner center or shelter in their respective cities.

The machines are available to both those without residence and those in temporary living spaces.  According to The Guardian, the products available in the machines are donated by local restaurants, retailers and private citizens. After this collection, machines are restocked regularly by volunteers. Visitors to the machines are also limited to three items per day, a move designed to discourage dependency.

“There is a critical need for access to food and clothing outside the capacity that shelters can offer,” said the organization’s founder Huzaifah Khaled in an interview with Fast Company.

This need is what inspired the idea for the accessible machines.

“Our vending machines offer 24/7 access, so they can be used at a person’s convenience, and completely free of charge,” said Khaled.

He explained that the shelters operate under tight budgets and limited hours that can interfere with homeless persons keeping much needed jobs.

The purpose of the machines is to provide support to the countless groups working to aid those experiencing homelessness.

“Action Hunger is not seeking to supplant the incredible efforts of existing charities for the homeless,” said Khaled to BBC.  “We’re seeking to work in concert with them.”

The first machine was installed in Nottingham, UK, Khaled’s hometown, this past December, and another begins service this month in Birmingham, UK. The program is expanding to the United States this February and plans to test the machines first in New York City.

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

The need to prioritize situations of homelessness highlights the intense need for assistance and support personnel.

“I see the vending machines as good resources because there’s not always someone available to provide support,” said senior Hector Rivera Suarez.

The machines may also help address the problem of resource and service availability.

“If anything, I’m intrigued to see how it’s going to work,” said student Bee Dow. “We (the US) don’t have the resources to handle the problem. We’re negligent as a society towards homelessness and poverty.”

Action Hunger’s plan hopes to reduce that negligence and move society a step away from it.

“In an ideal world, I would never have needed to start this charity,” Khaled said to the Washington Post. “I would love nothing more than to shutter this charity next week.”

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. But with the efforts of Action Hunger and their partner organizations, things are getting better one vend at a time.