Digital Identity for the Homeless
Mass homelessness in Canada emerged in the 1980s, following a massive disinvestment in affordable housing, structural shifts in the economy and reduced spending on social supports. Since then stakeholders across the country have tried and tested solutions to address the issue. These responses, largely based on the provision of emergency services, have prevented meaningful progress. Fortunately, there are many signs that we are entering a new phase -- one that will lead to an end to homelessness in Canada.
Why Decentralize or Web of Trust?
Modern services constantly require users to provide a verified, government identity. IDs are needed, not just to drive a car or enter a bar, but to register for school, open a bank account and access many government benefits. Individuals who do not have verification are locked out from vast expanses of the modern economy. Decentralized / Web of Trust based user-managed identity is a necessity for the millions of people around the world without identification or documentation. These “lost citizens” have no access to social service, no ability to transact, and no clear citizenship. Decentralized solution is needed to solve this problem for a few reasons, one; blockchain will decrease the chances of fraud and stolen identities being used. Second, for individuals that actually don’t have physical proof for their ID this elevates the need to register and request for physical identification which can take up months. Third, this can give people more proactive control over their data and make it more difficult for unauthorized users to exploit it. Lastly losing physical ID’s is one of the most common problems amongst those that are experiencing homelessness, they often get their wallets, ID’s, entire luggage or bag stolen so they always have to start over. Having their identities on the blockchain will mean they won’t have to start over each time as long as they have their master key they will always be able to have their ID’s with them wherever they go regardless if they lose their belongings or not.
What existing solutions do we have?
There are ID clinics across Canada that help homeless individuals re-apply to get their driver’s license, health card, and SIN cards back. They help clients individually fill out forms to get their ID’s back however the challenge is the bureaucracy and hoops they have to jump through to acquire it as well as the time it takes to wait for government to replace it. The problem that always occurs after is individuals losing it due to circumstance and then having to start all over again in the obtaining process. Emerging pilots to provide identity services for the homeless are emerging notable with two examples. New York with the Fummi app distributed on Android phones and recently a ploit in Holland (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1806.01926.pdF). Other solutions are proposed to different vulnerable groups with similar identity needs, like refugees with solutions like Taqanu (https://www.taqanu.com)
What are we aiming to do?
The focus of this topic is how to apply existing decentralized digital ID solution to help individuals experiencing homelessness in the city (Toronto). E.g. how to reserve services such as overnight shelters with digital ID, keep track of certificate offered by free public organized re-training programs, and built credibility via repeat use the the same digital ID with varies services run by non-profit organizations in the city etc. The current digital ID solution is mature enough to tackle this issue, however how to properly design and deploy this solution in a city wide scale without major government backing is still challenging -- how to make a digital ID more than just a digital file and become a tool to built trust on for the individual experiencing homelessness.