Ecommerce and QR codes to help truly needy homeless in a cashless society

Greater Change is an Oxford University effort to use technology to help the homeless raise more money. As the developing world moves to a cashless society asking for change is becoming more useless.

There is also the need for effective treatment of alcohol and drug addiction and treatment of mental health.

Greater Change is trying to avoid the funding addictions or enabling professional beggars. They are working to find and help the homeless who are in true need.

They actually interview some of the homeless to have specific savings goals and target amounts. They then create an online donation pitch for the homeless person.

They also provide QR codes on lanyards so the homeless person can receive electronic donations.

On a given night in 2017, 553,742 people experienced homelessness in the U.S. Over the course of an entire year, in 2016, more than 1.4 million people used an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.

In Canada, the average number of homeless is 35,000 on any given day.

QR codes

The lanyard (as well as the QR code) is just one element of the project, and it is an entirely optional element. It was added into the pilot use of Greater Change based on the suggestion of people who were homeless. If people would prefer not to use the lanyard, or the QR, that is entirely at their discretion. Greater Change is exploring other, more discreet positioning of the QR code, e.g. as a sticker applied onto business cards that are given to the participants, with details on the reverse about Greater Change, how it operates and what typically donations are spent on.

Housing First initiatives in some cities

The current trend is for cities to look at housing first.

In 2017, Bergen County, New Jersey, was declared the first community in the U.S. to end chronic homelessness. Bergen County’s success was a $11 million “one-stop shop” facility, where homeless residents can stay while they receive on-site treatment and housing assistance.

Housing first means getting people housed while they receive counseling or medical attention, instead of requiring people to be employed or sober before they are given a place to sleep. This method is not only proven to help people stay housed permanently, it also saves cities lots of money (for example, paying for preventative medical care is way cheaper than paying for repeated emergency room visits).

A Portland startup named NoAppFee.com, for example, uses micro-lending to front the application fees for renters until they can repay them. These fees, which may seem small to market-rate renters, can often be a huge financial barrier to those looking for subsidized housing. But the app isn’t solely targeted at homeless residents; even people who aren’t subsidized renters can use the service, which is perhaps even more important. It’s an easy, preventative way to serve anyone who needs help.

Honolulu, which has the highest per-capita homeless rate in the country, is taking an even more revolutionary approach to housing its residents fast. A Hawaii state senator who is also an ER doctor has proposed classifying homelessness as an illness. The rationale is that doctors can “prescribe” housing, which would allow advocates to use Medicaid and other public assistance funds to subsidize housing.

Homelessness is expensive

Homeless people with mental illness generate very high costs for society. In Canada, a 2017 study found the average cost of a homeless person is C$53,133. The number comes from research published this summer from the At Home Chez Soi (AHCS) project, which offers an accurate costing in Canada of those often termed “hard to house.”

Some studies have found that leaving a person to remain chronically homeless costs US taxpayers as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per year.

The high costs are for hospital and emergency room usage and more police and jail services.

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