Texas capital city Austin is piloting a blockchain platform that attempts to address the problem of identity management for its homeless population.
The pilot program plans to address issues such as unemployment, lack of medical services and government financial support for the city’s 2,000 homeless, who often can’t access these essentials due to proof of identity issues. A census taken earlier this year shows that several thousand more of the population are at various stages of transition, which could well equate to 7,000 homeless.
The project is financed through the Mayors Challenge Program sponsored by the charity Bloomberg Philanthropies. Austin was one of 35 cities across the US to be awarded pilot grants, and the top city from that group will ultimately be awarded USD 5 million for making the most significant social impact.
The main purpose of the project is to ensure that homeless citizens’ identities and personal records are securely stored, while at the same time permitting facilitators to access the information.
The city’s chief innovation officer, Kerry O’Connor argues that the needs of the homeless often don’t gel with the facilities they interact with, which is the problem that the program wants to address.
“People who are experiencing homelessness have their own needs, they don’t really care about our needs,” said O’Connor, who pointed out that these things might be “access to a birth certificate, or a social security number, or a rental history”.
O’Connor argues that a blockchain-backed ID system will allow those in need to easily obtain the services they need to get back on their feet. The program will allow homeless service providers to verify information using cell phones and also facilitate the storage of medical records of the city’s homeless population, allowing medical professionals access to relevant patient history.
Austin’s recent rapid economic growth has attracted professionals from hubs like San Francisco. The cost to the city has been a rise in house prices which has increased the homeless rate.
There are currently other US cities experimenting with blockchain programs to improve social conditions for its citizens, such as Berkeley California and Lafayette, Louisiana, which both have programs either in operation or scheduled for implementation.