What will happen to the homeless in a cashless society?

I’ve decided to start regularly publishing some of my under-developed ideas and thoughts on systems and solutions. Ideas that I haven’t got the interest or capacity to pursue, but which I believe are interesting or useful. I hope that I can either contribute to the design process of a team or individuals already thinking about similar ideas or inspire someone to take on the challenges presented.


I’ve been thinking about how we give money to people who are homeless, and the friction we encounter when deciding to do this. We usually encounter people who are homeless in passing and either make a simple decision or many more complicated ones. It can be as easy as ‘Do I have money to give?’ or, it could be as complicated as ‘How much money should I give?’, ‘What might they use the money for?’ and ‘What about the next person I encounter?’.

In the simpler case, my assumption is that we are more likely to offer a donation if we have coins in our pockets versus if we don’t. This begs the question: How will people without homes be affected by a society that carries less loose change, as we adopt contactless payments? What does ‘on the go’ charity look like 10 years from now?

I started thinking about a charitable banking system built on top of person to person contactless payments.


If eligible — meaning you’re without shelter, you are able to apply for a publicly funded current account. I haven’t given any serious thought as to what this system would be called, but let’s call it ‘Give’. Visually ‘Give’ looks something like this:

After applying and successfully becoming a part of the ‘Give’ system, you’ll receive a reader and two debit cards for spending. One will loudly exclaim the ‘Give’ brand, and hopefully draw more awareness to the initiative, while the second will be more conspicuous in appearance. Each will work in the same way. The cards will utilise contactless technology and can be used to pay for travel, food and other necessities. The cardholder can check their balance at ATMs.

Ideally, the reader draws attention and evokes hopeful and positive emotions in both the owners and potential givers. Passers-by will be able to donate to members of the ‘Give’ system by a simple tap of their debit or credit cards.

The system will be integrated with smartphones allowing givers to automate and manage their spending by setting a weekly budget. In the case that we’re able to eliminate the need to tap, and instead utilise Bluetooth or create some other method for distancing the card to reader transaction, a passer-by will be able to set up alerts which draw their attention to opportunities to donate without needing to stop, accepting the opportunity using touch ID.

The money donated to recipients will be funnelled and allocated in different ways to maximise its use. Perhaps, a decided upon daily cap will allow the spread of donations across multiple days, allowing the recipient ‘enough’ to survive on for the day, and transferring any excess to the following day. On the other hand, the giver will be able to spread their daily spend across multiple recipients equally.

There will be speciality convenience stores stocked for members of the ‘Give’ system, but open to everyone. The stores will optimise their stock to the needs of the ‘Give’ system members. The store will also be available for general use and provide opportunities to contribute to the system through tipping or donating change (e.g. An item which costs £4.69 will donate 31p). Donations made via a ‘Give’ store will be spread out across country-wide or local networks.


Other than the obvious there are a few other questions that are asked:

  1. Can we design an experience that makes giving feel rewarding?
  2. Can we coax the public into giving by quietly inter-weaving the system into society, or loudly communicating the presence of such an initiative?
  3. How do you create a visual language that encourages people to take part? Perhaps more inclusive iconography, a child-friendly colour palette.


As I wrote above, I’ll be regularly publishing my thoughts on systems and designs of the future and present, as well as thoughts on life and work. If you’d like to know what I’m getting up to and when I publish, you can sign up to my mailing list here.

Please share if you find this useful or interesting.

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Designer of systems and objects. Based in London.

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