Nottingham, UK, Gets World’s First Vending Machine for Homeless

December 20, 2017 Updated: December 20, 2017

A new vending machine was installed at the Intu shopping center in Broadmarsh, Nottingham, in the U.K. on Tuesday, Dec. 19, but it is not your typical vending machine — it takes no money and dispenses items like fresh fruit, sanitary towels, socks, and toothpaste for free.

The vending machine was set up by Action Hunger, an organization that was started by 29-year-old Nottingham native Huzaifah Khaled, to serve the homeless.

Khaled, who was completing his Ph.D. in law while working on the project, came up with the idea after seeing a rising number of homeless in his home city.

“I spoke to a lot of homeless people and saw there was a crucial need for something like this,” he told the Nottingham Post.

A year and a half ago, he started looking for a vending machine company that would donate a machine for a trial.

Eventually, N&W Global Vending agreed to give him a $10,000 machine, the Guardian reported. He then worked with the Nottingham-based Friary, a drop-in advice center for homeless people, to identify those most in need and to get volunteers to stock the machines.

“We will be prioritizing rough sleepers,” Friary CEO Sam Crawford said in a statement, according to CNN. “Not everyone who visits us is a rough sleeper, some are homeless in other ways such as those in temporary accommodation.”

The machine works with cards that allow the holder to take out up to three items per day at any time of day.

“There are many charities and shelters that work tirelessly towards helping those whose daily lives are most mired in hardship—though many have limited operating hours,” Action Hunger says on its website. “[This] often results in services being unavailable during the evening and night, and they can also be very expensive to run, with costs running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“The immediate benefit of our vending machines is that they satiate hunger and provide nourishment to the most vulnerable members of society. They permit access to food and clothing free of charge at any hour.”

Action Hunger insists that the machines will be a complement to other efforts to help the homeless in the city, and not a replacement.

But the machines have been criticized for enabling homelessness by making it easier for transients to stay out on the street. If they were to seek shelter at a place where they could get professional help, it might improve their chances of getting out of the poverty cycle, they argue.

“We could have not put a limit on how many items people could receive, and not built in a system of checks,” Khaled said, according to the Guardian. “All of our users in Nottingham have to check in with the Friary once a week for their cards to continue working.”

Action Hunger is currently working with local individuals and businesses to stock the machines, but they hope to get bigger companies involved as the effort scales up, the Nottingham Post reports.

Eventually they plan to go global, with rollouts expected in the other U.K. cities and the U.S. by the end of 2018, the Guardian reports.

Two machines are set to be installed in New York in February, with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle following.

“It is just the beginning,” Khaled told the Nottingham Post.

As the story of the machines gained momentum in the media, Khaled has been contacted by people all over the world who want to install a machine in their city, he said.

“I’ve had emails from people in Greece, Spain, Australia and China, all wanting to know more,” he told the Guardian.

“My ultimate hope for Action Hunger is for our idea to take root in cities all over the world, and for the homeless to have a lifeline to rely on while government policies work towards ending homelessness for once and for all,” Khaled told CNN.

But before that happens, he needs someone to run the charity full time, reports the Guardian — he’s set to start a full-time job at Goldman Sachs in February.

Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK