Oxford is sometimes a city of huge contrasts, and one example of this exists in the form of the many homeless or very poor people in Oxford, asking for money or selling Big Issues in the city centre right next to colleges with multi-million pound endowments, and libraries containing hundreds of priceless manuscripts. It’s a juxtaposition that I seem to simultaneously find hard to come to terms with and easy to ignore, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel that way. I want to help, but I’m not sure I can in any significant way. Not only that, but I often feel unsure about giving cash to homeless people on the streets (again, I don’t think I’m alone in that, although it could be a totally mistaken assumption), and there are sometimes signs in Oxford discussing exactly that issue.
On this note, an idea occurred to me a few weeks ago. I’m sure someone else must have thought of this before, but thought I’d put it out there anyway. Why not give people who are asking for money a card that donations could be sent to? These cards could be linked to supermarkets to buy food and essential supplies (but not alcohol and cigarettes), and people could transfer money to them by texting a unique code. The technology already exists for this in the form of prepaid cards and donating or entering competitions by text, which have both become very common in recent years. Just Text Giving is an example of how these concepts have already been applied to charity, and what I propose is a slight adaptation on the same idea, by linking each code to a particular card valid in supermarkets. Some people have also been proponents of giving gift cards to homeless people, or using credit cards for donations to homeless charities, but I think my idea could simplify the process by combining the two, and would be centred around individuals rather than charities. Rather than having to go and buy a gift card before returning and handing it over, or giving a general donation to a charity, a text could make a quick donation to an individual for a specific purpose, and also possibly in return for something like a big issue.
Of course, there are issues with this idea: the recipients would need to keep the card safe, it would require administration, people might not donate in the same way as if they gave spare cash, and supermarkets sell cigarettes and alcohol that it wouldn’t be so good to spend money on, which would need to be disallowed on the card. On the other hand, I feel that this would cost a small amount relative to the budgets and profits of companies like Tesco and Sainsbury’s, but could have a positive social impact. I also feel like the administration could be handled fairly efficiently, with limits on what the cards could be used to buy, and this would offer an alternate way for people to do something small to help those living rough in the UK. There’s no such thing as a bad idea, right?
(If this is already happening and I’ve missed it then please let me know!)