British charity unveils free vending machine for homeless


London (AFP)

A British charity has set up a free vending machine containing essential items for the homeless, an initiative presented as a world first which they hope will be rolled out internationally.

Action Hunger has set up the machine in the city of Nottingham, central England. It contains items such as water, energy bars, socks and sanitary towels, which can be accessed by the local homeless with a special keycard.

"They permit access to food, clothing, and basic necessities at any hour of the day, and completely free of charge," the charity said in a statement. Keycard holders can take out three items per day.

Action Hunger is working with a local homeless day centre in Nottingham to distribute the key cards and understand the needs in the city.

The charity said that working with local support services was "instrumental to breaking the cycle of homelessness, and getting these men and women off the streets for good".

The goal is to ensure that food and clothing was always available to those who needed it.

The machines dispense fresh fruit, crisps, chocolate and sandwiches, as well as antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste combination packs and even books.

Much of the food comes from organisations seeking to reduce food waste, including supermarket chains and food banks.

The three items per day limit is intended to stop dependency upon the machines and complement other homeless services.

Action Hunger said it would install machines in other cities, starting with London, Manchester and Birmingham in Britain; Paris; and New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle in the United States.

The initiative comes as a British parliamentary report out Tuesday called homelessness a "national crisis" and said the government had been "unacceptably complacent".

The Public Accounts Committee report said that more than 9,100 people were sleeping rough on the streets in 2016, while more than 78,000 households, including 120,000 children, were homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

The government said its Homelessness Reduction Act was the most ambitious reform in decades dedicated to ensuring people got support sooner.