The number of homeless people in the UK is set to more than double to half a million by 2041, according to research published by Crisis.
In London alone, as many as 8,000 people sleep rough every year.
Shocked by the statistics, Martin Stone, who has run a soup kitchen in a north London suburb for ten years, decided to tackle homelessness on a national scale.
To help alleviate the suffering of those living on the streets of the capital, Stone launched a website last month.
He has already received support from comedians Sean Lock, Bill Bailey and Lee Mack to publicise his venture, while the major consultancy KPMG will advise Stone on how to further develop his project.
However, when he approached London mayor Sadiq Kahn, who has pledged to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in the capital, the response was “disappointing”.
Stone told Verdict:
I’m disappointed in the statutory authorities because they have a duty of care. It’s in the mayor’s policy to encourage people to volunteer and to encourage people not to be street homeless. Unfortunately though, when I told City Hall about Next Meal they just shrugged their shoulders like so what? I was very surprised.
Using GPS technology, the Next Meal website helps people locate food and support by listing all of the nearby locations in London which provide free meals or offer accommodation advice.
The website is not just for the homeless, however.
Volunteers can use it to find their closest soup kitchen and Londoners can print off cards from the NextMeal website to hand out to people sleeping rough.
“The website details are on the card,” Stone said.
The card offers an alternative for Londoners who don’t have any spare change or who feel uncomfortable giving money to someone on the street, he said:
Handing out a card instead of giving money works, particularly for people who are frightened to engage with the homeless. The old lady who feels concerned about youth unemployment can — in complete safety — pop the card in a cup. The parent who is concerned that their cash will be spent on drugs but still wants to help can do the same.
Last week, the Diocese of London agreed to give cards to all their worshippers across 17 boroughs in the capital over the Christmas period.
Meanwhile, Stone is in discussions with coffee giants including Cafe Nero as well as the Hilton hotel group to distribute the cards.
Eventually, he hopes to introduce the NextMeal card scheme to other cities around the world including Paris and Dublin where homelessness is also widespread.
We want to be compassionate, understanding and kind but many people don’t know how to respond to the homeless. That’s where my card scheme comes in.