Three thousand homeless people in New York are about to receive a special holiday gift: a free smartphone that allows them to manage their digital identity, access shelters and food pantries, and make use of financial services. The initiative, which uses blockchain technology, may be the first time a distributed computer ledger has been employed to help a homeless population.
The project comes from Blockchain for Change, a New York City startup that has developed a mobile app called Fummi that’s preloaded on the phone. It has teamed up with Life Wireless, which provides phones to low-income groups using federal subsidies. Also involved are NYC service providers like Urban Pathways, Part of the Solution (POTS), Hakook, and the Robin Hood Foundation.
Life Wireless is distributing the phones, starting in the Bronx. The service groups create the blockchain identities for individuals. Once on the system, they can then open an account, receive money, and track their activity. For instance, the app shows when someone has checked into a shelter, how much they paid for showers, haircuts, and clothes, and their available balance. Fummi aims to be one-stop-shop for all the services the homeless use regularly.
Blockchain for Change has two big purposes. The first is to help the homeless access services they are entitled to, and at discounted prices. More than 60,000 people spend the night in shelters in New York alone, and many don’t currently have digital identities, cofounder Calvin Bradley tells Fast Company. That restricts access to financial services and government programs, where identity needs to be authenticated.