On the short walk from Manchester Piccadilly to the UNILAD offices, I pass about 30 homeless people every day.
Shivering under sleeping bags and damp blankets they cradle one another next to cardboard signs that read ‘homeless, please help me’.
They are begging for change but the majority of people just walk on by as if they aren’t really there, like helpless invisible ghosts uncared for by the world.
But even by handing over a pound or two – what good will it actually bring?
Everyday I feel myself plagued by the question, ‘what must be done about the homeless’, and although I consistently reach no conclusion, one teenage genius from London thinks he has.
This is Joshua Browder, and he’s a computer expert turned moral crusader.
If you think you recognise his name then you probably do, as Joshua made headlines a few years ago when he invented a website, DoNotPay.co.uk, to get people out of fines for unpaid parking tickets.
The app has since successfully appealed against 160,000 parking tickets and saved people millions of pounds.
Jokingly, he said to UNILAD that because of the site ‘everybody loves me besides the government’.
Apparently, the website works by asking people a broad series of questions before translating the user’s information into a legally sound document that can be used to appeal parking tickets.
But now, Joshua has turned his talents elsewhere – inventing a similar bot which can help the newly homeless find somewhere to live.
We spoke to Josh to learn a bit about the website and how it works.
Speaking to UNILAD, he said:
Once I set up the website to get people out of fines for unpaid parking tickets I got a lot of emails from people telling me just about other issues they thought I could help them out with, but sadly a lot of the time, I can’t.
I’m not a lawyer, I’m just a student. But when I received an email from a woman who had been evicted and was in hospital with nowhere to go I felt I really had to do something.
I really can’t describe how bad I felt after hearing her story. I just wanted to help. So I decided I had to do something to get the recently homeless back into accommodation again.
At the beginning I sent out a Freedom of Information request to find out the most successful, and least successful, ways to get yourself rehoused. Then when I had the results I got together a few lawyers, who were willing to work with me for free, to write some generic letters which the recently homeless could send to their council to get themselves back into accommodation.
So now, if you visit the site, you’ll be asked a few general questions about your current condition and once you get to the end you’ll be given a draft of one of the generic letters – tailored to your requirements – which you can send through to your council and fingers crossed you can get yourself back into housing.
The website has since gained a lot of attention from across the globe, however, Joshua does not want to make any money out of his solo exploits.
Once dubbed the ‘Robin Hood of the Internet’, Joshua is really living up to his name and isn’t making a penny from his work – doing it merely for the sake of other people.
However, that isn’t to say that things are going badly, as Joshua has a lot of good news.
The website has been written about in numerous papers, including a lot of the free papers which are handed out in major cities across the UK meaning that my invention is now getting into the hands of those who really need it.
Also I’m currently in talks with CentrePoint, the UK’S leading charity for homeless young people, who seem really keen to join up with me meaning that their site will actually link to mine and hopefully together we can do our bit to reduce the number of homeless people in the UK.
Manager of CentrePoint’s databank, Gaia Marcus, said to UNILAD:
It’s fantastic to have talented developers like Joshua working on this issue and we’d love to work alongside them. You can’t overstate how important it is that this technology is built with an understanding of the social issue it’s addressing.
Although DoNotPay is currently only based in the UK, Joshua is looking to expand to the U.S. in the near future, but it’s a lot trickier across the pond.
In the U.S. it’s tricky because the law differs from state to state, and shockingly it’s actually illegal to be homeless in areas such as Miami.
You can get a ticket for begging on the street which of course results in homeless people losing whatever little money they have in the first place. So in the U.S., setting up the website would be more about fighting eviction in the first place rather than focusing on getting rehoused.
At the end of September, Joshua is looking to bring out another revolutionary website, one which he hopes will help asylum seekers find refuge in the UK.
This website will be his most challenging, as although the site will follow the same structure as the one dealing with homelessness and parking fines, it will also have to understand Arabic.
Now bear in mind, Joshua is a full time student and he’s spending his free time earning no money whatsoever while teaching a computer to understand Arabic for the sake of helping people. Now that’s an inspirational young person. He deserves a medal.
Yet he is very worried about Brexit and the implications it could bring to his websites.
Speaking about the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Joshua said:
I’m terrified about the implications Brexit could bring about, especially in terms of my asylum seeker project, as leaving the EU could really affect consumer rights laws and many current law protections.
It’s also making things a lot more expensive over here in the U.S.
Joshua is looking to return to the UK when he has finished his studies where he hopes to continue his moral work while looking for a career in the tech industry.
If only there were more people out there like Joshua – the world would definitely be a better place.
Joseph Loftus is a Gold Standard NCTJ journalist with four years experience working for international and regional press.
As well as working for UNILAD and LADbible, Joseph has worked as Liverpool Correspondent for Unsigned & Independent Magazine, as well as stints with the Liverpool Echo and Warrington Guardian.