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Vending machine scheme for homeless pioneered in UK

12 January 2018


The first vending machine for the homeless, set up by Action Hunger in Nottingham. Access to the items is by a card supplied by the council

The first vending machine for the homeless, set up by Action Hunger in Nottingham. Access to the items is by a card supplied by the council

VENDING machines that provide essential items such as water, sandwiches, and warm socks to rough-sleepers, 24 hours a day, are to be launched in cities in the United States and the UK.

The first of the machines was installed in Nottingham only last month, but already the charity behind it, Action Hunger, has had requests to install the machines in New York next month, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. More are to be installed in the UK, in Manchester, London, and Brighton.

The machines dispense water, fruit, energy bars, crisps, chocolate, and sandwiches, as well as sanitary and hygiene products, socks, and books. Crucially for the homeless community it is designed to serve, the machine is accessible any time of the day or night. In contrast, much of the other provision for rough-sleepers is available for only a few hours a day.

PAThe first vending machine for the homeless, set up by Action Hunger in Nottingham. Access to the items is by a card supplied by the councilThe vending machines were the idea of Huzaifah Khaled, a law student, who developed the project after many conversations with homeless people at stations on his regular commute from his home town of Nottingham to the University of Cambridge, where he was studying for a Ph.D. After lobbying 50 vending-machine manufacturers to gain support for his project, one of them, N&W Global Vending, gave him a machine.

He told the Nottingham Post: “I spoke to a lot of homeless people, and saw there was a crucial need for something like this. We are not trying to supplant homeless services but to complement them.”

The machines are accessible only by a key card, which is handed out in Nottingham by the Friary, a day centre that serves homeless people in the Nottingham area. There is a limit on each card of three items a day. Similar partnerships with shelters and charities for the homeless are being set up in other cities where the vending machines are to be installed.

The machines are regularly restocked by volunteers, and many of the items given by organisations that seek to redistribute unwanted food and reduce food waste.

In the US, Action Hunger has formed a partnership with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a not-for-profit organisation based in New York.

Mr Khaled and his small team will use data collected from the cards to establish the most popular items, and also to monitor whether the vending machines work with other organisations in helping people to get off the streets.

Action Hunger’s patron is Professor Stephen Hawking, and its legal adviser is Clive Stafford Smith, whose work to abolish the death penalty in the US and uphold the rights of Guantánamo detainees earned him the Gandhi International Peace Award.


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