By Kamille D. Whittaker
Mini City’s mission is simple: To sit firmly at the intersection of technology and social good to eradicate homelessness, not just in Metro Atlanta, but across the nation.
The how is less simple, but as a first step, the tech start-up seeks to transform the way that nonprofits, shelters and municipalities — all of which have many resource constraints — assist the homeless and solve one of the biggest barriers for homeless citizens — lack of the necessary legal identification documents that would help them receive resources and help.
It was a problem that India Hayes, a tech designer, and Anita Jones, who works full-time at the CDC, felt compelled to address.
“One of the major impediments to reducing long-term homelessness is the difficulty that homeless individuals have securing vital records and identification cards,” says Hayes. “You need vital records and ID to take advantage of many basic services that empower an individual into sustainable levels of ownership and self-sufficiency. However, there are significant obstacles including costs related to applications and filing fees, as well as transportation expenses, and requiring a mailing address.”
And so Mini City developed Fit Bit-like wearable technology in partnership with tech-enabled wearable device leader Tagstand, to streamline the administration processes for legal identification, vital records, and employment forms for those who are unhoused and declared indigent, placing it at intersection of technology and social good.
With it, Mini City can gather information from users to obtain vital records, like social security cards and birth certificates, and generate resumes and cover letters with stored education and work histories. They also gather basic demographic data like age, race, and location, and narrative-based data like personal goals and accomplishments. This is stored in a secure repository for later analysis.
“We are using the data to place them within job opportunities and their first interviews through relationships with partners like First Step Staffing; and to also show measurable success through completion of each Mini City session,” says Hayes.
Mini City’s pilot program, which launched in May of 2017, secured legal identification and outfitted 500 homeless citizens with wearable devices. They work each week with homeless individuals at the Salvation Army and ReStart Atlanta shelters with individuals ranging from ages 1 to 61 years old. The endeavor comes with remarkable margins, including a projected annual savings of nearly $2.2 million for the city of Atlanta if only 30 percent of its pilot participants complete the program.
“As we know, many cities have difficulty offering aid or finding solutions that stand to contribute to the long-term improvement of the lives of homeless people. In this way, Atlanta is not alone, as other major cities around the nation find themselves in similar circumstances,” says co-founder Jones. “However, as Atlanta is fast-becoming the entrepreneurial and tech hub of the southeast, we believe that we are in a unique culture and community that will allow for successful solutions.” AT