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A former homeless man is making NFTs to raise money for housing charity Shelter

Nathan Lawrence wants to raise money for Shelter after the charity helped him when he was homeless – and the digital artist has chosen the controversial crypto craze NFTs to do it.

A former homeless man has opted to give back to the charity that helped him find a home – via the NFT craze.

Nathan Lawrence, 31, from Manchester, spent the early part of the pandemic sleeping on friend’s sofas and self-isolating in his mother’s shed after he was evicted from his home.

He has since been rehoused with the help of housing charity Shelter and the digital artist, who goes under the name N K Digital, has now set out to repay the housing charity for their help by raising money using non-fungible tokens, more commonly called NFTs.

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The controversial crypto-art trend has faced criticism due to a number of high-profile scams and the impact the blockchain-based technology has on the environment. But Lawrence is aiming to show that the latest tech craze can be used as a source of good.

“I can understand why some people don’t trust them. It’s a cryptocurrency at the end of the day, that’s what it’s bought with and sold for and a lot of people don’t understand cryptocurrency,” said Lawrence.

NFT to help homeless people
Lawrence told The Big Issue he got into NFTs because they were the “in thing” and has been designing them on his phone for months. Image: Nathan Lawrence

“All cryptocurrency or crypto mining and things like that have an effect on the planet. It all runs off fuel, fossil fuels and everything else so it’s not good and the majority of groups in the community are trying to find better ways of basically executing these projects. 

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“But I think it’s a new way of changing the world.”

NFTs allow people to buy and sell unique digital items and claim ownership of each one. NFTs can be anything from digital art to GIFs or items in video games and are bought with cryptocurrency with ownership tracked using the blockchain.

NFT Nathan Lawrence
Nathan Lawrence told The Big Issue being homeless during the pandemic was one of the hardest things he has had to do. Image: Nathan Lawrence

In the last year they have become big business with one piece of digital art, ‘Everydays – The First 5000 Days’ by Beeple, going for $69.3m at a Christie’s auction last March. WAGMI United, a group of crypto backers, made headlines for reportedly trying to buy Bradford City Football Club and selling NFTs to fans.

There has been scepticism towards NFTs generally with the environmental impact chief among the concerns. NFTs use the Ethereum blockchain which requires a computer network to run. The 99.6 Terawatt-hours of electricity required to power the network is more power than is required by the Philippines or Belgium, according to Digicomonist

Despite these hurdles, Lawrence believes the technology can be used to help people who experienced homelessness like he has in the past.

His project, called “Shill Bill The Shoebill” is raising funds for Shelter and the World Wildlife Fund. Lawrence has drawn more than 1,200 different images of the endangered bird the shoebill and is selling them on NFT marketplace OpenSea.

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For each sale, Lawrence is asking his customers to donate directly to Shelter before sending proof across to him. Lawrence has sent The Big Issue proof of these donations. He then sends across the NFT for the customer to keep.

So far, the project has been running since the beginning of January and has raised around £300.

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The project has coincided with Lawrence securing permanent accommodation after his spell of homelessness. He has vowed not to take a financial cut from the project and told The Big Issue he believes that NFTs can be used to help people.

NFT to help homeless people
Lawrence chose the shoebill as the basis for his designs after reading about the endangered bird. Image: Nathan Lawrence

“I was pretty much made homeless,” said Lawrence. “I was told to leave my flat after splitting up with my partner and ended up sofa surfing during the pandemic – that’s probably one of the most difficult things I had to do. It was during Covid and I had to isolate in my mother’s wooden shed in the garden. It wasn’t a good year. 

 “Shelter has been helping me and I’ve just gone to view a property and been offered it after waiting a year.

“I want to be able to raise money and put it straight towards helping the homeless instead of doing it the way it is normally done in the NFT community when they say they will give a set percentage out of their crypto wallets.

“My situation is better now I can concentrate and I’m trying to help Shelter the way they helped me.”

Alice Klein, assistant director of communications at Shelter said: ”We’re so glad that our teams were able to help N K Digital through a difficult time when he was homeless, and we’re really touched that it has inspired him to fundraise for Shelter and help raise awareness of our work.

“Every donation will help us to make sure no-one has to face homelessness alone. With the public’s generous support we can help more people to find, or keep hold of a safe home, as well as campaigning for lasting change.

Lawrence’s project is not the only NFT project looking to support people experiencing homelessness

A crypto firm called VOYCE has also announced VOYCEToken, a “charity orientated crypto token” on the Binance trading platform, had partnered with Australian homelessness charity Musicians Making a Difference to make NFTs to allow youngsters to monetise songs.

VOYCE CEO Stephen Collins said: “Since its inception, blockchain technology has had the ability to level the playing field across the globe.”

But question marks still remain whether the technology can change its potentially polluting ways and provide a new way to support the most vulnerable in society.

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