In the UK, 36 people become homeless every single day, and there are over 300,000 people currently registered homeless. But the real level of homelessness is likely to be much higher, as only those in contact with local authorities or hostels are included in the official numbers. With the figures rising by 4% each year, something needs to be done. Oxford based start-up, Greater Change, recently joined our Future 20 incubator programme and are helping to address the UK homelessness crisis through innovations such as contactless donations and tailored online crowdfunding. We spoke to their Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Tan, about how Greater Change is providing cashless solutions and enabling targeted donations to tackle this critical problem.
Can you explain the journey, from someone donating money to the person in need receiving it?
The process for our homeless clients starts with their support worker referring them to Greater Change. The support worker will then work with them to put together a plan for getting out of homelessness, which is communicated to us. We then put their story on our platform and begin fundraising towards their goals, which might be to save up for a rent deposit, or move closer to their support network, for example.
As a donor, you can donate to a specific person on our web platform, where the money flows directly into a pot that we ring-fence for the person. Once the funding goal is reached, we continue to provide feedback to donors on how the person they have helped is doing. If you choose to donate monthly or split a donation, we divide the money evenly amongst everyone we are actively helping.
Similarly, if you give via one of our contactless terminals, we divide the money amongst everyone we are actively helping in the locality. Which means the money is always being used to help those you see around you!
Our process is collaborative by nature; we work with external support workers who have taken time and care to build good relationships with homeless clients, and we do not want to replace the very good support work that is already in place.
We know the statistics about homelessness are shocking…
Where do we start! The fact that there are estimates of anywhere between 200,000 – 400,000 people who are experiencing homelessness in the UK right now is pretty shocking.
The average age of death of someone who is homeless in the UK is 42, and that includes those living in shelters or sofa surfing, so it’s not just the rough sleepers who suffer from a huge deterioration in health. This is nearly half the life expectancy of the rest of the UK and is absolutely shameful that this is a fact in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
What are some of the problems with donating cash?
There are many issues around it. The first being that we seldom carry significant amounts of cash around with us anymore, so people only give small amounts of change when they might actually be more generous than that.
Then there is the issue of professional begging and the inherent difficulty in differentiating between someone who is genuinely in need, versus someone who is a professional beggar. Though they are likely to need help as well, as there are often associations with organised crime and modern slavery, but giving cash can often fuel the system.
Lastly, giving cash is short term in nature. It’s impossible for people on the streets to save up in order to take meaningful permanent steps out of homelessness.
It is extremely easy to fall into homelessness. All it takes is a short spell of misfortune and lack of a privileged economic background.
How do your contactless payments work?
We work with local businesses to set up contactless donation terminals in their shops, to enable people to give quickly and easily. The donations are divided amongst everyone we are actively helping in the locality, and we provide regular feedback to the businesses so that they can feed the positive stories back to their customers.
What do you wish people knew about homelessness?
That it is extremely easy to fall into homelessness. All it takes is a short spell of misfortune and lack of a privileged economic background. But also that it can be solved in a very straightforward way – by fund tailored plans, and enabling the person at risk of homelessness to tell you how to help them.
Could you tell us about some success stories?
Nathalie approached us after completing a drug recovery programme and construction skills certificate scheme. We fundraised for Nathalie’s license and she is now full-time employed and therefore no longer at risk of becoming homeless; without paid work Nathalie would not have had the means to pay her bills.
With our help, Mary got into stable housing after years of homelessness and addiction. When Mary approached us, she was four years into recovery but was still living with an ex-partner. Due to a breakup, she had nowhere to stay, putting her at risk of becoming homeless again. With the help of our rent deposit, Mary is now living in stable housing and is working part-time for Greater Change.
“I am so happy now and overly grateful for the sponsors who helped me get my little loft flat. This has changed my life more than you’ll ever know.”
What else do you think needs to be done by society to help the issue of homelessness?
I think more resources have to be pumped into the system. It is an extremely complex problem that in some ways has fairly simple levers. There aren’t enough houses being built, so housing is growing increasingly less affordable.
In many ways Greater Change was created out of inspiration from a study done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation with the City of London Corporation back in 2010; rough sleepers with extremely complex needs were given sums of up to £2000 in flexible funding to be spent on their long term goals. When coupled with good tailored support, the programme saw a great success rate that had not been achieved by many others in the field.
Greater Change has seen over 80% of the people we release money to successfully get into or maintain long term sustainable housing
What’s on the horizon for Greater Change?
We are continuing to improve our platforms and the donor experience, as well as the type of support we provide for our homeless clients. There will be a winter campaign kicking off in November, where we really hope to bring something significant to the table for the people we are helping.
We are also looking to expand to more locations throughout the UK and are working on providing an at-cost service to local authorities, community foundations and other potential partners to extend the reach of our work.
Find out more about Greater Change by visiting their website
The Future 20 programme is a bespoke incubator programme run by Allia Future Business Centre comprised of 20 of the very best UK tech for good and social ventures that are addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.