The Intu shopping centre in Nottingham, United Kingdom, has installed a vending machine with food and other essentials available for no charge to homeless people with a special keycard.
The idea for the machine was put forth by local resident Huzaifah Khaled, a 29 year old PhD student, who hopes that the project will expand across the UK. It kicked off when he persuaded N&W Global Vending, one of the world's largest vending companies, to donate a £10,000 machine, and partnered with the Friary, an advice centre for homeless people.
In what could be the first of its kind, the machine dispenses essentials such as water, fresh fruit, sandwiches, toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, and even books. The machine can only be accessed by those who are truly in need and possess a special keycard provided by Action Hunger, a charity that is dedicated to combatting homelessness.
The fresh food items are sourced from redistribution organisations committed to reducing food waste, and the other items are procured through donations.
Khaled hopes to have 25-30 machines installed in the UK in 2018. The movement could be even more effective through a partnership with Network Rail to install the machines at train stations.
There has been some criticism that this type of service could encourage or enable homelessness, instead of getting people to seek help and sanctuary. However, since the launch there has been interest from many other countries including the US, Greece, Spain, Australia, and China. In times where rapid urbanisation is coupled with large-scale unemployment and inequality across the world, the vending machines could provide some respite for the growing homelessness problem.