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An app to end UK homelessness: Greater Change

08 January 2020


One in 200 people in the UK is homeless. Most of us walk past at least one person who is rough sleeping each day, probably more if you live in a city. And the number is rising. Homelessness is a problem all year round, but it hits even harder in winter. The colder weather makes sleeping rough even more dangerous and uncomfortable. Plus, many people think of the Christmas period as a time to spend with loved ones, further highlighting the isolation of those sleeping on the streets. 

Alongside growing numbers of homeless people, donations are dropping. Fewer of us give money to rough sleepers as we aren’t sure if it’s the best way to help. We worry our change may be funding an addiction, or we’re concerned that we’re aiding professional begging with our donation. And as we move towards a cashless society more often than not, we don’t have change to give. 

Why is homelessness such a huge issue? 

A lack of ways to help is one of the main reasons Octopus Giving decided to give funding and time to help Greater Change; to develop an app to end homelessness through cashless donations.  “I’d see a lot of homeless people on my way to and from work every day. When I didn’t have any cash on me, I felt I couldn’t help them,” Ronak said. “I wanted to use my skills to solve that problem.”

“It’s such a huge issue that affects so many people, and no one seems to be doing anything to fix it,” Ronak continued. “I saw a growing number of homeless people along with a growing lack of willingness to engage with them from the general public. I think one of the issues is that we’re desensitised to the situation that people are in and don’t have a trustworthy platform to learn about that situation. People grow numb to homelessness and it becomes an ‘everyday’ thing rather than something that individuals have the capacity to understand better and do more to help with. That’s why I’m so interested in helping Greater Change grow; I believe they’ve got the potential to really make a difference.”

How Greater Change works

The team behind Greater Change want to help people permanently overcome homelessness by enabling cashless donations, either through contactless payment or via their app. The team work directly with homeless people, who each have at least one support worker to help them make a long-term change. Together, they decide on development goals and financial targets for the homeless person. Once the monetary target is reached, the donations can be spent in-line with these goals. 

The obvious benefit of the app is that it lets people donate even when they don’t have cash on them. Additionally, Greater Change gives donors peace of mind that their money will make a real difference. If they choose to, homeless beneficiaries can share information like goals, a photo or a bit about themselves on the app, allowing supporters to learn more about who they’re helping and understand how their donations will be used. 

Ronak saw an opportunity for technology to deepen the connection between the public and homeless people, giving supporters more incentive to donate. “We wanted to build on the contactless touch-points and personalised fundraising Greater Change already have,” he explained. “Instead of tapping your card on the touch-point, we want users to get a Bluetooth notification when they pass any of the individuals the app supports. That way, we’re actively reaching out to people to get their attention. When someone walks past a rough sleeper, they’ll get a notification about the person, their goals, and their situation.

“Importantly, the Bluetooth beacons provide a solution which avoids tracking locations, allowing the homeless person to feel safe, and avoiding any infringements on privacy. At the same time, supporters will realise when they’re repeatedly walking passed someone they could help to escape homelessness.”

Mary’s story: a permanent home through donations

So far, Greater Change has made a real difference to the lives of those they have supported. Mary is one of the victims whose life was changed by donations made through the app. Having lived on the streets for more than 35 years and battled addiction, Mary discovered Greater Change after rehabilitation. To get off the streets permanently, she needed a housing deposit. Greater Change donations helped Mary secure the deposit and find a home. She now has a home and a job, and is no longer at risk of homelessness. 

Stories like Mary’s motivate Ronak to put the hours in to help with the project. He got Octopus Giving involved, then joined forces with a number of his colleagues to build additional functionality into the Greater Change app. “We’re putting all our knowledge into this,” Ronak said. “We usually spend two to three hours a week working on Greater Change.”

A solution that really works 

Ronak wants to make sure the solution works for everyone involved. “What we’re doing isn’t useful unless we can prove it’s a good solution.,” he explains. “We’ll do testing in the New Year with five to ten homeless victims on the app, then we’ll get their feedback on it and go back to rounding out the product to make the user journey slicker.” 

At the same time, grabbing the attention of passersby will be key to maximising donations. For Ronak, creating a human link will be a key part of this. “You see so many people on the streets that you forget each person has their own story. By sharing a titbit of information about that person, we think people will be more inclined to donate, engage and even strike up a conversation.”

Download the Greater Change app now to donate through the app. Ronak’s test will take place in Farringdon, London during February. Download the app and visit the area to donate to local rough sleepers through contactless.

So far, Greater Change has had an 87.5% success rate in rehousing homeless victims. If you’d like to learn more about the work they do and the people they help, head to their website.