People who would otherwise sleep on the streets can usually get into night shelters for free, but capacity is limited, sleeping space is shared, some shelters are only open during the winter months and
there are eligibility criteria that need to be met.
Hostels and related.
Hostels are not always free and may require a referral from a charity, but generally offer more space and independence.
This project aims to make it easier to make donations that are directly used for hostels and similar accommodations.
Project: London Nightvoucher
This project is currently just a rough idea:
Dedicated donation receipt: accepted as one-time payment for a number of nights by the indicated accommodation provider.
Access address: Website address which already contains an identifier and password and provides access and control to voucher information (e.g., https://nightvoucher.co.uk?id=abc123&pw=cde456).
QR code: When scanned by any modern phone it opens the access address (it is like a two-dimensional barcode [link]).
Instructions: pictorial/textual explanations on where and how to use it
Printing: The printing is left to the donors, but the voucher is provided in various formats and designed to work both on A4 paper as well as smaller and more sturdy postcards/flyers. One can choose how often a nightvoucher can be redeemed (and the donated sum is split between each time) such that one can order a batch (at existing and trustable printing services) and receive it per post, if that is preferred.
Donation service: Donor pays the accommodation providers via the website and receives a printable nightvoucher.
Managing service: Accessing/redeeming nightvouchers via the website.
Redundancy: Due to the central role of the website and to avoid a single point of failure, a mirror (second independent website) is planned which uses completely different service providers that are unlikely to fail at the same time.
Easy of use: A mobile phone app is not needed, as the vast majority of modern phones can turn the QR code into the access address (alternatively, it can also be entered manually)
Receives nightvoucher from donor in person.
Brings nightvoucher to accommodation provider / intermediate charity (who keep it, to clarify that it cannot be re-used).
Reasoning behind the project
Trusted accommodation providers.
Accommodation providers do not need to trust the website, as the received donations indicate a code that can be found on the access website to confirm
which donation it links to. The accommodation providers do not receive the access link with the donation, but accommodation providers need to be trusted to provide services that are paid for in the dedicated donation.
Importance of Face-to-Face Interactions.
While it is possible to donate directly to somes accommodation providers (e.g., sponsoring young homeless people [link]), both donors and recipients alike deeply benefit from a more human-to-human interaction (moral support and goodwill can go a long way).
While giving cash is always a possibility and may be the best choice, accommodation costs for multiple days/weeks/months can be substantial and without knowing the person very well it harbours the risk that the money may be used for things that further the problem rather than helping out of it.
Thus, to overcome reluctance on the side of donors (especially for larger sums) and to guide recipients towards accommodation, this project aims to make it easier to make dedicated donations via vouchers.
Intention of the project.
It is not meant to solve all problems, but in the best case it may inspire more people to give more money, more money may go towards accommodation and more opportunities may be created for positive interactions; all of which may help a person to find a safe place to sleep and try to find a way out of homelessness.
The goal is to keep the project simple enough to not require any donations for the project itself and to only accept volunteer work and partnerships that are directly used towards the project, i.e., anything that could go directly towards providing people with a safe bed should go towards that.
There are many (incomplete list):
Lost/discarded vouchers: What if a voucher never gets used and the accommodation provider is not a charity. Which legal responsibilities does the accommodation provider have? Note: There are no initial plans for money to be held by nightvoucher services, it is only meant to track the dedicated donations and provide receipts. All donations go directly to accommodation providers or charities without any intermediaries. Perhaps some established charity could serve as an intermediary that transfers the funds to accommodation providers when the voucher is redeemed?
"Cold-start problem": How does the recipient know if what is handed to them has any value to them at all? For the most part this is left to the donors who have to explain how it works.
Usability: How does the voucher instruct the recipient sufficiently clearly what exactly they can do with it?
Trust: How to check if the accommodation provider fulfills their pledge/duty to provide a accommodation? Note: For instance refusal may be argued on the grounds of health and safety concerns, but how could this be verified?
Permanence: How can continued service be ensured? Note: The initial plan relies on volunteers (private individuals) rather than some organisation, but long term this is too unreliable and clearly not sustainable.
Transparency: How can donors verify that their donation serves the intended purpose? Note: It is planned that donors can see if their donation was used or not, but this does not fully guarantee that the recipient was actually provided an accommodation as intended by the donation.
About this project
It is currently in its infancy and merely the idea of one computer science researcher (hopefully soon more) who will try their best to make this a reality, but any help would certainly speed up the process and increase chances of success. Thus, do not hesitate to get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if you think this project could be helpful.
Note: The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of their employers.