by Cindy Huynh
Austin is piloting a new blockchain platform to solve identity issues concerning its homeless population. The city was one of the 35 cities to be selected as part of the Mayor’s Challenge Program, sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The top city from the 35 cities will be awarded $5 million.
Identification is one of the main problems preventing the homeless from receiving critical services such as housing, potential employment, and medical care. According to TechCrunch, Austin believes that blockchain can help solve these challenges. Blockchain technology can create unique online identifiers for homeless people, allowing them to reestablish their historical records and assist them out of poverty.
Steve Adler, the Mayor of Austin, explained to TechCrunch:
“At a high level, the pilot is trying to figure out how to solve one of the challenges we have in our community related to the homeless population, which is how to keep all the information of that individual with that individual.”
Homelessness is a Pressing Problem in Austin
According to a recent report by KXAN, the Austin, Texas NBC affiliate, there are approximately 2,000 homeless individuals in the city, with several thousand more transitioning into poverty. Unfortunately, identification is one of the hardest problems for the government, especially for people who are displaced and marginalized from their communities.
Sly Majid, Chief Services Officer of Austin said:
“If you have your backpack stolen or if your social security card gets wet and falls apart, or if you are camping and the city cleans up the site and takes your possessions, you have to start all over from the beginning again.”
Losing important documentation and personal possessions can be a significant problem for the homeless because “it really prevents you from going about and doing the sort of activities that allow you to transition out of homelessness,” said Majid.
Although Austin is becoming one of the most attractive startup hubs in the country, the economic boom unfortunately, raised housing prices over the year, making housing affordability an enormous problem. The homelessness rate in Austin has therefore not improved despite the city’s growth. “For everything that is going right, we have some challenges that are shared by a lot of large cities,” said Adler.
Blockchain Technology as a Potential Solution to the Problem
The blockchain initiative’s purpose is to consolidate previous identity records and identify each homeless individual safely and confidently while allowing seamless access to data by a service worker. “There are all kinds of confidentiality issues that arise when you try to do that, so the thought was that blockchain would allow us to bridge that need,” said Adler.
The goal is to replace inconvenient paper records with digital electronic encrypted information which will be more accurate and secure. The blockchain-based platform could also help service providers verify a homeless person’s identity without going through existing paper records or bringing someone back to the office for processing.
Unlike paper records, records on the blockchain can be shared amongst different providers easily, especially new records that need to be added over time. Having a historical record of an individual is very important, especially in healthcare where any new or updated information can be critical for the individual.