We live in a digital age, and if you’re like me you rarely carry cash. Easy access to credit cards and the advent of digital payment services like Venmo and Cash App have made tangible currency almost unnecessary. Let’s be honest it makes everything much easier, no need to carry clunky coins in your pocket or worry about having exact change to pay friends. However, there could be a darker side to this societal shift and it’s affecting the population which is already among the most disenfranchised and vulnerable, the homeless.
Homelessness is a substantial issue in America with the Department of Housing and Urban development estimating over 552,000 individuals without a permanent place to sleep in 2018. These people have needs that aren’t being met and often their only option is begging for money on the streets. Relying on donations from others, just some change or a few dollars could mean the difference between going hungry and having a warm meal. Access to basic necessities like food and clothing is a daily struggle, and that coupled with longer term problems such as access to job training and legal services is only increasing their difficulties. The trend towards digital currencies is a troubling one for the homeless, as less people have the means to give to those in need, even when they want to. With less access to physical money now than ever before, the already vulnerable homeless population has even fewer resources at their disposal making getting back on their feet nearly impossible.
While a difficult population to reach given their limited resources, technology provides exciting opportunities to solve some major issues homeless experience in their daily life. Lack of physical currency is a common barrier to donations, but another major issue involves the lack of knowledge of where contributions are spent. Networks and platforms enabled by technological advances provide unique solutions to solve these problems by creating accountability and transparency in the donation system, ensuring that money is spent on beneficial items instead of contributing to issues like substance abuse. Here are a few companies that are putting social justice first and are at the forefront of working to improve the lives of those in need.
TAP London is a non-profit company using NFC (near-field communication) to allow potential donors to contribute funds aimed at improving the lives of the homeless. By installing small contribution centers at strategic points in cities, individuals are able to use any NFC enabled credit or debit cards to donate a set amount of money (three pounds) by simply tapping on one of their donation centers. This money is then pooled into one fund which is distributed by the organization and its board of trustees to 22 different charities all working to improve the lives of the city’s homeless.
Greater Change is another group using technology to assist the homeless population, but this time using an app. By allowing homeless individuals to sign up for their service through partnered charities, they can work with support workers to set savings goals for specific purchases such as rent deposits, ID, work clothes, skills courses and tents. Each person will then be given a unique QR code. Through the app, donors are able to give peer-to-peer contributions just like dropping change in a cup. After scanning a person’s QR code they can see personalized bios of the individuals and then choose an amount to donate towards their savings goals. The charity support workers then ensure that donations are spent on the agreed upon items to ensure donations aren’t going towards substance abuse. Donors are then sent a personalized message detailing what their money went towards and personalized messages from that individual.
WeCount is an online platform and app that allows homeless people to safely ask for items they need and provides a way for people in their community to donate directly. This is important as panhandling on the street can often be dangerous, and this company is using technology to eliminate the need to physically sit outside and solicit contributions in person. Anyone can sign up with an email address or a text message-enabled phone number, and users choose whether they want to donate or receive help. Allowing the homeless to ask for specific items gives them agency in their collection efforts and includes options like outdoor gear, home goods, children’s needs and clothing. WeCount then works as a middle-man to purchase the items and distributes them to users at designated pick-up sites, ensuring that funds are used for the items donors choose to donate to.
As we continue to move towards more digital forms of payments to purchase our goods and services, the needs of the homeless are even more intensified. With already limited resources, the homeless population is in need now than ever before, and there should be an emphasis on how tech can be used to help. Two of the companies above are located overseas and with similar problems experienced here in America, we need more entrepreneurs focusing on the issue here at home. These companies are leading the way, but it’s only a start.