On any given night in Atlanta, there are more than 3,000 homeless people, at least 80 percent of whom are African American. As the city grapples with affordable housing, economic inequality and gentrification, Mini City is poised to launch its second pilot program to deploy new technology in an effort to eradicate homelessness.
“Mini City is a tech start up rooted in compassion,” co-founder and CEO India Hayes said.
Hayes and Anita Jones began the social enterprise after participating in Goodie Nation’s 2016 cohort that addressed the question, ‘How can we hack gentrification to make it more economically inclusive?’
Based on their volunteer experience, Hayes and Jones developed their solution around the needs of the homeless because they are “super impacted by any change in the city.” The co-founders listened to program directors and caseworkers, like Salvation Army’s former grants manger Melinda Allen and Area Commander Janeane Schmidt, who described why the lack of identification and vital records was a tremendous barrier to self-sufficiency.
“Homeless people don’t have access to basic needs – shelter, food – and one of the primary reasons is lack of an ID,” Mini City Consultant and PhD candidate at Georgia Tech Sourabh Jha said.
Without two forms of identification you can’t open a bank account, enroll in school, own a home, rent an apartment, or access basic services like Medicaid or SNAP (commonly known as food stamps). But the process of obtaining an ID, which includes application and filing fees, transportation requests and a mailing address, is not feasible for those who lack stable housing. Addressing this need would become the core service of Mini City’s first pilot.
“With these vital records, consumers [homeless citizens] are able to go from agency to agency and really connect with housing, health care and employment,” Allen shared.
Working primarily with the Salvation Army, the social enterprise provided more than 300 Near Field Communication Enabled wristbands, which are similar to Fitbits, developed in partnership with tech sponsor Tagstand. The wristband was like a key to unlock free services.
“I have gotten assistance with my state ID and my birth certificate. The workers and volunteers – everyone was wonderful. It gives me hope,” Jeanette shared about her experience with Mini City after attending a vital records fair hosted by Salvation Army. Those served by the describe acquiring the ID as a first step toward moving into an apartment or starting a job.
And while the early years demonstrated that the tech start up was fulfilling a need, they realized their web-based approach, available only on their laptops and phones, was not practical as they sought to expand their reach.
“We had to be there and it was very time consuming,” Hayes said. So, Mini City went back to the drawing board for a more accessible and scalable approach.
The second pilot, expected to launch in early 2019, will feature an on-site resource tablet application based at shelters, food banks, churches, and other organizations. Services will remain free to the homeless, but participating providers will be assessed a discounted subscription fee. Caseworkers with high caseloads are embracing this technology as a tool that can help them be more effective.
On the tablet, each homeless user will be able to check on the status of any form of identification they applied for with Mini City, search for nearby resources like food and shelter, book shelter beds or medical appointments with partnered providers, store resumes, and more.
“This is more sustainable, more mobile and moving toward our final model of a smart city – smart panels throughout city,” Jha said. The possibilities are endless as As Mini City continues to innovate technology for social good.
To learn more, visit minicityatl.com.