A technological solution to Croydon’s homelessness issue: Would you use it?


By - Friday 3rd January, 2014

Jonny Rose invites you to put your money where your mouth is on Croydon’s homelessness issue


At this time of year, it’s hard to be not to be aware of the lightning-rod issue that is Croydon’s homelessness problem.

Recent news of local homeless charity Nightwatch narrowly avoiding falling foul of the council has served to shine a much-needed spotlight on the issue of the borough’s displaced, and on a personal level, I see every week the state of the problem as my church works to befriend, feed and rehouse the homeless in the Purley area.

Yet it’s safe to say, although many Croydonians profess to be outraged by the treatment of local homeless, this hasn’t spurred them into any kind of useful response at all.

Alas, the poor can’t eat your latest empathetic retweet, bro.

For sure, there is often a wide gulf between people’s right-on opinions translating into right-on amounts of action – especially, when it comes at a personal cost. But apart from sheer laziness, what else stops people (who, otherwise, show a strong inclination towards wanting to help the homeless) from actually doing it?

I imagine it’s all sorts: concerns about safety, uncertainty on how the money will be spent, inability to qualify the ‘deserving’ from the ‘undeserving’, unwillingness to give up two hours that could be spent watching a BBC2 costume drama, and so forth.

The HandUp Model in San Francisco

I’ve recently been quite taken by a tech startup in America called HandUp – which creates a service that creates a personal page for homeless people that enables donations for specific items and needs.

HandUp has only been going for less than three months, but as you can hear here (please watch the interview – it’s brilliant), it is completely disrupting the traditional welfare/philanthropy models for the better.

The founder, Rose Broome, first came across the idea when she was regularly saw the same faces of homeless people in San Francisco on her daily commute.

Whilst there are hundreds of social action and charitable groups which help the homeless ‘at scale’, Broome wanted to fix the problem of how to donate to the individuals she saw every day, rather than a faceless, aggregate problem. Like many, however, she feared her cash would not be spent on clothing, food, and other essentials but instead would feed a drug or alcohol addiction.

HandUp is designed to alleviate these concerns and benefit people in need.

Once a homeless member has expressed interest, HandUp’s team notes some basic information, such as their first name and neighborhood, and generates a profile and custom paper card.

The member can then hand out the card to stranger or familiar face in the community.

Herein lies the innovation: the card contains information for people to donate via a secure SMS system, and the transaction can be carried out on an iPhone.

The recipient can only redeem the donation at Project Homeless Connect, a San Francisco-based organization that provides housing support, medical care, food, pharmacy gift cards, and other basic essentials.

Could it work in Croydon?

Croydon Tech City prides itself on being a community where everyone can “come and play” and we’re working hard to make sure everyone in the borough will benefit from the burgeoning tech and digital economy.

That means the homeless, too.

So I’ve been thinking – if someone were to create a similar site which documented and profiled every one of Croydon’s homeless community and provided a transparent, safe and easy way for you to help an individual in need to procure essential items:

Would YOU use it?

I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions and suggestions in the comments section below.


The next Croydon Tech City event is Thursday January 23rd at 7:30pm at Matthews Yard. To attend, please sign up as ‘attending’ here  or to confirm your attendance.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • http://www.plot49.com/ Plot49

    I’ve just looked at this article, and will read it, and follow some of the links, in more detail later. My first impression is that it is an excellent initiative, something that I have not heard of before. Bill

  • Taylan Tahir

    Great article! I think the transparency of this scheme is great! As well as the obvious financial benefits for the homeless, it seems to me it has the potential to empower this faceless group of people to be seen as a part of the community and not forgotten. In a way it is much like crowd funding which appeals to the public most successfully through video messages.

    I believe it would however be most successful in situations where people pass the same faces regularly and could have an online connection with them if they wanted to still remain an anonymous donator.

    The thing I like most about hand up, is that it is a for-profit scheme. There needs to be a rethink about the way run charity and social projects and this TED talk highlights exactly that:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong.html

  • lizsheppardjourno

    Yes, I’d use it. I also love the idea of Croydon as a pilot area for schemes of this kind. I would encourage you to proceed.

    With regard to inertia though – I don’t believe people’s laziness or fondness for Downton Abbey cause it, or even play a significant part in it. I think that many are confused – as you say, they don’t want to give money directly to individuals which may be spent on alcohol or drugs (addictions which may have played a part in creating homelessness in the first place) and they are aware that charities like Thames Reach campaign actively to dissuade us from doing this. They are acutely time-poor, particularly if they have families, and (increasingly) cash-poor, as more and more fear for their own financial futures and worry about where the next mortgage payment is coming from. Too many are also affected by a toxic barrage of hate-think, as the ‘skivers v strivers’ message is relentlessly pumped out by the government and its supporters in the press. Compassion is harder to nurture in a climate of alienation and fear, and scary situations can give rise to numbness and denial.

    I also think plenty of us are in a kind of shock : we’ve grown up with the welfare state, counted on it and voted for the party that founded it. We believe that our taxes should purchase a social safety-net for those who need it, and for that reason (I hope and believe) we pay them gladly. We are near-incredulous (speaking for myself) that the safety-net is being allowed to fall apart.

    But since that is the case, it is time for action. I hope this idea receives wide support and I look forward to hearing more about HandUp in Croydon.

  • Andrew Dickinson

    Yes, I would be interested in using this. As a ‘soft touch’ as someone who buys tea and rolls for a local ‘homeless’ guy we never get in to a discussion if there is any other bits he needs. This is a way to be reassured that money goes to them for what they genuinely claim to need.

  • Scott Collen

    It’s an ace programme that HandUp run. And I’d love to see a London/UK version, personally think it’d be good to incorporate a labour/service element to it – not only helping the homeless receive the goods they need to survive but getting them closer to being job ready, and fully become a contributing part of their local community.

    Seeing HandsUP move past money and have perhaps a list of items the homeless person would like to receive eg. Coat, Size 9 shoes, socks. Which then people can donate from their wardrobe rather then pitching in a % of the money to buy one new.

    Problem with some of these schemes is engaging the people they are meant to help. I know Casserole Club (a service that pairs old people with young people who cook for them) has plenty of young people offering to cook for elders in the neighbourhood but very few elderly folk who’re happy to receive that meal.

    Prove the need and want to participate and I think you’ve got it Mr Rose. I’d help out.

  • PolarDog

    When giving to charity one is often beset with a ‘drop in the ocean’ feeling.

    This gets around the problem – one’s donation has a tangible beneficiary. Yes, I would be happy to use it.

    Scott Collen makes a good point in his comment about following up the beneficiary and their path back into ‘everyday’ society.

  • Susan Oliver

    Great idea. One little suggestion is to enable donors to transfer a small amount (usually £3) from their mobile balance to the fund. A couple of the big charities do this. It’s quick and easy and I think encourages people with small budgets to contribute.