Dispensing Hope

A vending machine for the homeless in Quebec is the first in North America

An estimated 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year, roughly 35,000 each night. Last month, the federal government launched a $40 billion National Housing Strategy with a goal of “50 percent reduction in chronic homelessness over the next 10 years.” A Huffington Post article states, “It’s time to develop solutions that address the causes and consequences of homelessness as a whole.” While bigger picture strategies are at play, local efforts in Quebec are making a big impact for those in need in their downtown neighbourhoods.

People struggling on the streets of Sherbrooke, Quebec are getting “an extra boost” this year: North America’s first hygiene products vending machine for the homeless is now available at a downtown Salvation Army. The program is spearheaded by Sondès Allal of the Community Economic Development Corporation of Sherbrooke and is supported by other community members. 

The concept of using a vending machine to combat homelessness was started by British charity Action Hunger, which was the inspiration for Sherbrooke’s program. Also launched this year, the first-of-its-kind London location machine dispenses water, fresh fruit, snacks and sandwiches, as well as socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste, and books. Action Hunger aims to “address two major social and environmental issues – homelessness and food waste” by using food from redistribution organizations. The Sherbrooke location machine, called the Partage Box (Sharing Box), includes items such as shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and feminine hygiene products. A second machine is planned for another downtown Sherbrooke location by the end of the year. Action Hunger also has plans to have their vending machine program started in various locations in the United States and has discussed plans for other locations worldwide.

In its first month, approximately 30 people accessed the Sherbrooke location machine. Four Sherbrooke downtown outreach agencies distribute tokens to allow those in need to access the machine’s products free of charge, any time of day. The London location machine requires use of a key card which users can pick up free of charge from various service agencies. 

“We want our low-cost solution to complement other services that are available, as engagement with professionals and local support services is instrumental to breaking the cycle of homelessness,” stated Action Hunger in an interview with The Guardian. While Action Hunger and Huzaifah Khaled, the creator of Action Hunger’s original vending machine, emphasize this intrinsic engagement with social service organizations as key to their work, the charity has also been criticized for “enabling” life on the streets.

But according to the Sherbrooke provider of the hygiene products, Patrick Rahimaly of the Uniprix Chemika Mamode pharmacy, “the well-being and personal needs of an individual go beyond having something to eat. Health [and] good personal hygiene is a starting point . . . to promote self-esteem.” In an interview with Christian Courier, Captain Ricaurte Velasquez of the Salvation Army agreed, affirming that offering dignity to users is one key benefit of the vending machine in Sherbrooke: “They don’t feel like they are begging; they can choose what they would like.” 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *