Austin City Hopes Blockchain Helps to End Homelessness

Austin is developing a blockchain technology system for registry of refugees in the city. This will help improve service delivery. The country sees more than 7000 people living on the streets according to last year data by ECHO.  


Austin city in Texas wants to use blockchain in protecting the identity of the homeless in case their identification documents are lost or destroyed.

The blockchain project will help to put together identity and vi0tal records of homeless people in a safe and confidential way. Additionally, it will empower individuals to own and control their records securely. In addition, the program would help homeless service providers and government offer integrated and comprehensive aid to those in need. This will be possible when they access integrated information. The project would help verify the identity of people seeking help and knowing the care provided to a certain person previously — which is for instance very important in the healthcare industry. The latter could, for instance, help improve treatments and medical research.

City’s chief services officer Sly Majid says,

…“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.”

The system will, therefore, replace paper records which is hard to manage. On the contrary, digital encrypted records are more reliable and secure. A homeless services worker can, for instance, verify the identity of a person using a mobile device without having them to visit the office or carrying paper documents.

Governments usually have a challenge in maintaining an identity of the marginalized and homeless refugees. The city has some 2000 homeless dwellers according to this year’s census. In addition, several thousand more are in various states of transition. The challenge worsens when the documents to maintain are of physical nature. The city’s chief services officer Sly Majid say losing the physical identity documents could mean someone starts from scratch. This is very painful for marginal populations and makes the poverty cycle to persist.

That’s the reason the government is working on a blockchain-based project to maintain these identities.

Besides, the city is one of the top startup hubs in the United States. Many talents have moved into the city from other parts of the world. The growth brought some challenges such as hiking house prices. This makes it worse for the city in its quest to improve homelessness in the city.

The program could also help link governments and private industries although Majid says “it’s an iterative process” for them and that they “need to crawl” before they walk and walk before they can run. The mayor said they try to work with new industries and find a proper intersection of government innovation and responsibility.

Had a partnership last month

In February, the city formed a partnership with Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. There were discussions about how blockchain was being employed to help Syrian refugees. So since it worked for refugees, it would work for the serious displacement problem in Austin.

ECHO, which is a nonprofit data-driven organization working to end homelessness in the country, said last year that the city sees more than 7000 people living on the streets annually.

Can blockchain help end homelessness? What do you think? Lets us know on Twitter and Telegram.  

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David Kariuki is a journalist who has a wide range of experience reporting about modern technology solutions including cryptocurrencies. A graduate of Kenya's Moi University, he also writes for Hypergrid Business, Cryptomorrow, and Cleanleap, and has previously worked for Resources Quarterly and Construction Review magazines.

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