Scanning homeless people – has the world gone completely mad?

I couldn’t not talk about this.

It caught my eye in the news this week that a scheme in Oxford called Greater Change is trialling ‘homeless QR codes in London’. It works by giving a homeless person a barcode which they should wear around their necks on a lanyard. Then, the ‘ever-so-busy’ passer by can quickly scan the code to learn more about the person and then donate funds to them via their smartphone.

As a nation, have we gone completely mad? 

Now i’m sure there’s good intentions behind this scheme, I really really do. But seriously? Identifying a homeless person by a no more than a barcode and then to make matters worse, walking up to them and scanning them on the street? I can’t believe this idea ever went to the finalisation stage, let alone be granted coverage on the national news.

There’s so many things wrong with this regime I can’t even begin to comprehend it. It was broadcasted on national news this week and I honestly turned the channel over before the coverage came to an end. The whole promo video was degrading and humiliating beyond means. Not to mention, it was downright cringeworthy. I’ve tagged it for those with a genuine interest but honestly, its not at all nice to watch.

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Everything that’s wrong with scanning homeless people

As if the whole concept of ‘smarter giving’ isn’t wild enough; let me run through a few other technicalities that are all wrong with the whole project.

  • Have we lost the art of conversation? The idea of the QR code is to learn more about the homeless person and then you can choose whether you want to make a donation. This begs the question, what is so wrong with simply talking to people? In my experience, those on the street are always immensely grateful even for your small change and it’s great to stop and have a chat with them too if you have the time. Put yourself in the situation and imagine that the only daily form of human interaction you have is someone protruding a smartphone in your face.
  • How does the homeless person even get the money? I’m sceptical about this as there’s no real explanation as to how the individual in question even obtains their donations. The tagged video explains that the money will be internally managed and then issued to the homeless person. I’m just wondering how they plan to go about that, as very few people living on the street are likely to have their own bank account. The Greater Change website states that “homeless people do not need a bank account or a smartphone to access the funds or to have a GC account. It is set up for them” but how exactly does this work? Do they have to stay in one place and wait for a volunteer to come along with the cash for them? Maybe i’m a cynic, but this doesn’t seem to add up.
  • Where’s the f*cking freedom? This point really, really, REALLY riles me. Above anything else. So much so that I also mentioned it above briefly. There’s an internal moderator controlling the money donated and what it’s spent on. How strange and intrusive is that? There’s national rumours concerning donating to homeless people that have circulated due to the worries that to there’s no real way to know what they’re spending the money on. I’ve even seen a few posters on the tube about it. Honestly, my opinion is, why is that even our business anyway? If you chose to donate then you have made that decision to give that person money – what they then spend it on should then be down to them. 99% of the time, the money will be spent on vital food, shelter or travel. If you’re really unsure then either don’t donate, or purchase something like a sandwich for someone. Don’t issue money through a company that monitors every purchase – it’s beyond invasive. On the Greater Change website, it says that the money will be used on building a better life for these people. I do like that idea, but at the same time people on the street typically need urgent food and shelter. More often than not, this is what they’re seeking money for in the first place.
  • It’s totally belittling. This is the main thing that is wrong with the whole programme. The sheer inhumanity of it all. If the dog-collar-like lanyard isn’t enough, then how about the whole ‘scan with your smartphone’ idea? Isn’t that a bit like gloating, almost? All it makes me think of is a humanity hierarchy in which homeless people are placed at the very bottom. In reality, these are people that may have endured terrible circumstances that left them without a place to live and I just don’t think it’s right standing over them with your £700+ phone and scanning them like an item.

Like I mentioned above, I do like to think that there were good intentions to be made here. The idea is all wrong though. You won’t catch me crouching down to scan a homeless person anytime soon, that’s for sure. Luckily – i’d much prefer to converse with someone and give them what I can offer. Read my blog post on how Liverpool helps the homeless for a few stellar examples of how to approach this issue in the right way.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Like I said, I have nothing against Greater Change and i’d welcome them to change my mind. I think the kindness is there somewhere, it just doesn’t prevail at the moment.

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scanning homeless people


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