The city of Austin, Texas, US, is experimenting with a blockchain-based platform aimed at ID services for its homeless people. The pilot is supported via a grant provided by the Mayor’s Challenge program, which is financed by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Austin was among the 35 US cities to benefit from these grants.
Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, told TechCrunch that, “at a high level, [the test] 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.”
Sly Majid, Austin’s Chief Services Officer, explained that identity issues should be a priority for the residents. “If your social security card gets damaged or if you have your backpack stolen, you have to start from scratch to create your identity, which is quite a challenge. This is especially difficult for the homeless population.”
“It really prevents you from going about and doing the sort of activities that allow you to transition out of homelessness,” Majid added.
Austin has recently experienced rapid economic growth, attracting much talent from major hubs like San Francisco. However, this has a cost for the average population in the city, as housing prices have gone up. This has negatively impacted the homelessness rate. According to a census conducted in 2018, about 2,000 people are homeless in Austin, with several thousand being at different levels of transition. The local authorities want to provide better services for this group of people, and thus they deal with issues like identity verification and creating a personal history for each individual.
In line with this, the city decided to leverage blockchain to store the identity and records of every homeless individual in a secure manner.
Adler said that, “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.”
With the help of blockchain, Austin will be able to replace paper records with encrypted records that will become easier to manage. For example, a homeless services provider might potentially use his smartphone to check an individual’s records, which is especially relevant when it comes to healthcare.
Other cities are looking at innovative ways to use blockchain technology for social purposes. In February, the authorities of Berkeley, California, planned to conduct an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) to raise capital for social projects. The initiative was targeting several objectives, including the support for the homeless population