Action Hunger hope to install a machine in the Arndale following a trial-period in Nottingham
As temperatures begin to plummet towards freezing, the sorry plight of Manchester’s growing number of homeless is brought back into stark relief.
There was a 40% year-on-year increase in the number of homeless on Greater Manchester streets last year, with official counts estimating between 150-200 rough sleepers (though charities and campaigners say the real figure is much higher).
The issue was catapulted to the top of the city’s political agenda back in May with the election of Manchester’s first metro mayor, Andy Burnham, who pledged to eradicate homelessness in the region by 2020, donating 15% of his £110,000 salary to kick-start the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund.
But despite numerous plans, funds, initiatives and partnerships - the latest making available 270 homes to rough sleepers as part of the Greater Manchester Homes Partnership – the visible presence of rough sleepers on public streets seems only to worsen.
While the likes of Not Just Soup, Coffee4Craig and the Big Change continue to deliver food, warmth and support at street level, a new and innovative concept could soon provide a round the clock ‘lifeline’ to Manchester’s homeless.
In December, homeless charity Action Hunger will begin to trial what’s thought to be the world’s first vending machine for the homeless in Nottingham, outside the Broadmarsh shopping centre.
100 homeless people will be given access to a traceable key card, which they can use to withdraw up to three items per day from the vending machines. Items will include: sandwiches, fruit, water, socks, books, toothbrushes and sanitary towels.
Should the trial prove a success, the charity’s founder, Huzaifah Khaled, told Confidential that Manchester is the next city in line to receive a machine.
“Everything hinges on the trial in Nottingham this December,” says Khaled. “We need a month’s worth of use to provide data such as the most popular products and busiest times.
“We hope to launch in Manchester in January and have already established a partnership with Intu, who own the Arndale shopping centre (and also Broadmarsh in Nottingham).”
Action Hunger will work with Tesco, Sainsbury's and surplus food distributers FareShare to keep stock up, while card distribution will be managed by local homeless charities to make sure the ‘use of machines is exclusively permitted to those in need.’
“We’ve also partnered with UberEats to keep the machines stocked,” says Khaled, “the only thing we’re lacking in Manchester is storage space near the Arndale.” (Anyone who may be able to help with this can contact the charity here).
The idea behind the scheme came about when Khaled, a student in Cambridge at the time, began talking to the city’s rough sleepers while waiting for public transport.
“They’d tell me about the disparate opening hours of shelters and I came to realise that there were huge swathes of time where they had nowhere to turn for help. It came to me that these people needed something on the streets 24/7 – a lifeline.”
Though Khaled is keen to stress that their vending machines will not supplant the support offered by existing homeless charities and organisations.
“We’re not trying to replace shelters, our vending machines are not going to get people off the streets,” he says. “These organisations offer the kind of empathy and human contact we never could, we aim solely to provide unmanned vending machines, to make sure help is always available.”
Following installations in Nottingham and Manchester, Khaled hopes to establish machines in London and Birmingham, before expanding to Europe and the US.
Find out more via the Action Hunger website.