Innovation That Matters

The UN estimates that around 1.1 billion people are homeless | Photo source Tom Parsons on Unsplash

5 innovative ideas for helping the homeless

Innovation Snapshot

Five of our favourite recent innovations that aid the homeless

Innovation is often viewed as the application of better solutions to meet the demand of consumers. Whilst innovations often address unarticulated needs, there remains a need for new ideas that address existing social concerns as well.  

Likewise, economic growth significantly benefits some whilst many others still struggle to meet their basic needs. The growing number of homeless people world-wide is a manifestation of this imbalance. The UN estimates that around 1.1 billion people are homeless, representing over 14 percent of the world’s total population.

Homelessness varies across contexts. Whilst those living in open space are the most salient, there is a sizeable population hidden from view. This can result in underestimating the homelessness issue and negligence towards addressing the needs of this population.

In urban areas, there is a lack of housing that truly caters to the homeless. Low-income housing is often available to some, but it can still be either too expensive or located in areas with limited access to employment opportunities. Then there are some policies that criminalise homelessness.  In the UK, the 1824 Vagrancy Act makes it a crime to sleep in the open. There is also a trend in urban design toward hostile architecture that discourages the homeless from accessing public space.

All of this contributes to a vicious cycle of marginalisation that supports enduring homelessness. It also highlights the need for fresh and innovative approaches that address, rather than avoid, this issue.

Springwise continues to spot emerging efforts to tackle homelessness across the globe. From transforming double-decker buses into homeless shelters to training homeless people as baristas, here are five of our favourite recent innovations that aid the homeless.

1. London transforms double-decker buses into homeless shelters

Photo source from Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

UK-based NGO Buses4Homeless is turning decommissioned buses into shelters as part of an intervention aiming to improve the living conditions of London’s homeless. 

The buses have been donated by Stagecoach, one of the main bus operators in London. They are part of a three-month recreational programme attempting to reintegrate homeless people back into the community. The buses not only provide shelter, but also a space for learning skills such as cooking, business training and yoga. 

2. Tiny apartments provide homeless housing

Photo Source from Eric Fischer on Flickr

In the United States, Panoramic developed the MicroPad – a smaller version of the studio apartments the company builds for student housing. Made from steel, with 9-foot ceilings, the MicroPad comes fully furnished with a private bathroom, kitchenette, armoire, desk and bed, all in 160 square feet.

The units’ design is as part of a housing complex, rather than as stand-alone blocks. The units stack together on a conventional foundation. The apartments can be stacked up to eight high and have a very small footprint. This means that a space the size of a single car park could provide homes for hundreds of people.

3. A barista training course to reduce homeless population

Photo Source from Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

London-based coffee company Change Please aims to reduce the number of homeless people by training and employing them as baristas. Change Please estimates that the average Londoner purchases two cups of coffee per day. By 2020, 100,000 barista jobs will be created in the UK as a result. To meet that demand, the social enterprise trains the homeless as baristas.

The programme is taught by professional baristas. Trainees are then employed to sell Change Please coffee at events and street-side coffee vans. Change Please pays the participants a living wage and offer them support to find housing.

4. Government-funded hubs create network of rough sleeping spaces

Photo source Tom Parsons on Unsplash

The development of 11 Somewhere Safe to Stay centres is part of the UK government’s €100 million Rough Sleeping Strategy. These hubs provide immediate shelter and specialist resources to those in need. This may include mental health problems or substance misuse.

Specialist outreach workers also connect with homeless communities to ensure they receive support and guidance. In addition to actively helping those in need, the hubs play a vital role in identifying the issues that led to the problems in the first place.

5. Digital billboard helps the homeless find shelter

Photo source from The out of home project website

Swedish advertising company Clear Channel owns around 1,000 digital billboards. Working in cooperation with the city and with homeless charities, Clear Channel launched the Out of Home Project. The project replaced some of the billboards’ adverts with directions to the nearest homeless shelter whenever the temperature drops below 7 degrees Celsius.

According to Stockholm’s shelters, homelessness in the city is on the rise. While many of the homeless are aware of the location of permanent shelters, they may not be aware of the nearest emergency shelters. The ads directed people to the shelter nearest to each billboard. They also included information on where to donate necessities, how to become a volunteer and nearby day shelters for breakfast and warmth during the day.