• 01.19.17

This Jacket Designed For Homeless People Takes Wireless Donations Electronically

With fewer and fewer people carrying cash, this makes it much easier to give–and gives the homeless a bank account to help build savings.

This Jacket Designed For Homeless People Takes Wireless Donations Electronically

If you walk past a homeless person in Amsterdam testing a new payment device, they won’t ask for change, just credit: If you want to donate money, you can hold up your credit card to wirelessly transfer one euro.


Designers at the agency N=5, which designed the prototype, were inspired by two insights. “The first: These days, we tend to carry little or no cash at all,” says Merel Hoogendorp, part of the team that created the jacket. “Secondly, most people would like to help the homeless, but they feel that giving money basically goes to supporting addictions. So, we wondered how we can make it easier for people to help others who need it.”

The prototype incorporates the payment device inside a warm winter jacket; someone making a donation with a smart card taps the jacket pocket. The money is transferred into a bank account managed by a homeless shelter.

“The only way to redeem the money received this way is through one of the official homeless shelters,” says Hoogendorp. “The money never goes to the homeless person as cash, but is always redeemed in kind. This way, it can be spent on a place to sleep, a shower, or food. The homeless person can also choose to spend it on self-improvement, like vocational training courses or even for building up savings.”

The design is still in a pilot phase, with a single prototype jacket that several homeless people have tested. The reviews have been positive. Since people aren’t worried about how the donation will be spent, they seem to be more likely to give (though this thinking is paternalistic, it still does hold back many potential givers). Advocacy organizations are happy that the system helps give homeless people a way to save for long-term goals like education or permanent housing.

While currently working with a homeless shelter and a local bank, the team is looking for more potential partners to help roll out the product. “Our aim is to be able to produce, at scale, a version that’s safe, compact, and affordable so that it becomes helpful for everyone who needs it,” she says.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.