'Sorry I Only Have Card, No Coins': How Our Cashless Society Hits The Homeless

A cashless society sounds seamless and shiny. But as use of physical money continues to fall, where does this leave the homeless who depend on coin donations?

Bradley is tanned, shirtless and in his 40s. He is chatty and appears upbeat although he doesn't want to tell us his surname because he has a criminal record.

He says he's been living on the streets since 2015 and coin handouts from strangers help him survive.

It's hard not to notice that there's only 80 cents on the blanket he uses to collect donations. He looks at the money made up largely of five cent coins and shrugs.

Bradley lives on the streets of Sydney. Image: Nick Wray

"[It happens] all the time absolutely all the time 'Oh sorry I've just got cards' and they really mean it too," he told 10 daily.

He busks too -- in a bid to boost his earnings.

"Sometimes I have gotten $385 in one night while busking... sometimes you get absolutely nothing it all depends on the weather," he said.

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"Eventually there will be hardly any money because everyone will just stick to cards."

Bradley's observations from the streets of Sydney's CBD are on the money.

Homelessness is on the rise in Australia. IMAGE: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

The share of Aussies making cash payments has fallen sharply over the past decade or so. It's dropped from 69 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2016.

Cash could become a distant memory as soon as 2026, according to some industry predictions. Sweden is almost there already, with 80 percent of their transactions being cashless.

According the ABS figures, homelessness in Australia is up 14 percent in five years. For every 10,000 people, 50 are homeless.

Paul Foreham is softly spoken as he sits in a busy shopping thoroughfare. His right hand is amputated and he has placed a baseball cap beside it, hoping to collect money.

Paul Foreham has been rough sleeping for two years. IMAGE: Nick Wray

"Most people don't really talk to me," he said.

The 34-year-old has been a rough sleeper for the past two years. He too, has noticed the cash drying up and says he gets help from strangers,"not really that often."

"A lot of people only have cards."

Technology Trying To (Tap And) Change Homelessness

In Europe, there are tech companies seeking to help those that are being short-changed.

'Greater Change', backed by Oxford University Innovation and Oxford's Said Business School, has created wearable bar-codes for rough sleepers. The trial is looking to change the way people donate money to homeless people.

'Greater Change' trial in the United Kingdom. IMAGE: supplied

The system works by giving homeless people a QR code, and then the public can scan the QR code, through the app or any browser, to donate money to an individual.

The use of the code allows potential donors to learn more about the person they are donating to, such as details about how they became homeless and where they aim to spend the money they receive.

A case worker helps manage the accounts of each homeless person to guarantee the money is spent on agreed targets, such as rent deposits.

In the Netherlands, 'Helping Heart' is a contactless payment jacket that enables people to donate money using their contactless payment card to the wearer.

'Helping Heart' jacket. IMAGE: supplied

The idea came from a large Dutch advertising agency, who -- working with partners from the tech and Dutch homelessness sector -- ran a small trial of the jacket with homeless people in the Netherlands last year.

Bradley think's it's a great idea, and would love for it to be introduced in Australia.

"The reason being, is people only have cards these days and I'm looking at maybe setting up an ABN and getting a tap and go type thing and that way people can donate and they can get a receipt," he said.

However, Jenny Smith who is the CEO of the Council to Homeless Persons doesn't buy it as a long-term solution.

Smith said people living on the street need systemic change, not a commuter's spare change.

“By shifting the responsibility to good-hearted individuals, we’re letting governments off the hook, when governments hold the levers that can eliminate social disadvantage," Smith told 10 daily.

IMAGE:  PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

She said the bigger issue at play here is that to impact on homelessness, and Australia need more than philanthropic donations from individuals.

“The community cannot be expected to stump up the scale of investment required to solve homelessness, which involves building thousands of affordable housing units nation-wide."

And there are concerns that tap and go technology could further de-humanise the homeless.

“People who are vulnerable and living on the streets often tell us that what they most want is to be treated with respect and dignity by other members of the public. To be asked how they are, and what they need."

Sydney rough sleeper Paul, agrees.

"Yeah I'd rather people stop and talk rather than give me money, conversation is worth more than any money they could give me," he said.

Charity Coin Boxes Also Carrying No Weight

Our cashless society isn’t just impacting the homeless like Bradley and Paul, but also affects fundraising by charities which traditionally rely on spare change and donations tins.

READ: There Are Almost 30,000 Employed And Homeless Australians

READ: How Sneaky Cities Use Hostile Architecture To Hurt The Homeless

Recognising the fact people simply don’t carry cash anymore, World Vision Australia invested in paywave technology. It's now located in approximately 190 locations across the country.

Donors are given the option to simply tap their card at retail stores and coffee shops without having to sign up or commit to ongoing donations.

In the Sep-Nov quarter last year -- they had 70 active machines -- which generated nearly $40,000.

Surf Live Saving and Cancer Cancer Australia Surf Life Saving have also introduced "tap and go" mobile pay facilities for debit or credit cards, as well as Apple Pay.

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Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au

Featured image: Getty Images