Austin is piloting blockchain to improve homeless services

Danny Crichton at TechCrunch: “While the vagaries of the cryptocurrency markets are keeping crypto traders glued to their CoinDesk graphs, the real potential of blockchain is its capability to solve real human challenges in a decentralized, private, and secure way. Government officials have increasingly investigated how blockchain might solve critical problems, but now one city intends to move forward with an actual implementation.

The city of Austin is piloting a new blockchain platform to improve identity services for its homeless population, as part of a competitive grant awarded by the Mayor’s Challenge program sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Austin was one of 35 cities to be awarded pilot grants, and the top city from that group will ultimately be awarded $5 million….

The city wanted to improve the ability of its patchwork of government and private homeless service providers to offer integrated and comprehensive aid. There are a number of separate challenges here: verifying the identity of a person seeking help, knowing what care that individual has previously received, and empowering the individual to “own” their own records, and ultimately, their destiny.

The goal of the city’s blockchain pilot program is to consolidate the identity and vital records of each homeless person in a safe and confidential way while providing a means for service providers to access that information. Adler explained 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.”

By using blockchain, the hope is that the city could replace paper records, which are hard to manage, with electronic encrypted records that would be more reliable and secure. In addition, the blockchain platform could create a decentralized authentication mechanism to verify a particular person’s identity. For instance, a homeless services worker operating in the field could potentially use their mobile device to verify a person live, without having to bring someone back to an office for processing.

More importantly, vital records on the blockchain could build over time, so different providers would know what services a person had used previously. Majid provided the example of health care, where it is crucially important to know the history of an individual. The idea is that, when a homeless person walks into a clinic, the blockchain would provide the entire patient history of that individual to the provider. “Here was your medical records from your last clinic visits, and we can build off the care that you were given last time,” he said. Austin is partnering with the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas to work out how best to implement the blockchain for medical professionals….(More)”.