Digital documents for the homeless

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Have you ever misplaced an important piece of paper, like a birth certificate or an identification card?  A hassle, yes, but not that big a deal. Now imagine if you were homeless. People struggling with homelessness are routinely asked to show documentation in order to access services. However, this documentation is easily lost or destroyed, and it is often difficult and costly to produce the information needed when it’s needed most.

Seattle nonprofit, Springwire, worked to address this problem with a 2012 Tech Matching Fund grant, the “Online Document Access for the homeless” project.  Over the course of a year, Springwire offered scanning services to homeless individuals  at events in Seattle, including multi-day events at the Seattle Public Library, Community Resource Exchange and Financial Fitness Day, as well as individual events at the Urban Rest Stop and Youth Care. Volunteers succeeded in helping 65 homeless men and women digitize their vital papers.

For many clients, the impact of knowing their information was secure was immediate and profound. One Springwire client carried hundreds of pages of handwritten documents that formed the basis of a book she was writing about her life. She had been fearful of moving them into a digital format because as a survivor of domestic violence, she was worried about her abuser finding them. It took a long time to scan them. They were fragile, on wrinkled paper in all shapes and sizes. Once Springwire volunteers transferred her files to a USB flash drive, you could see the joy and relief on her face knowing that her life story was now protected.

Integrating digital document preservation into services provided for the homeless is a model Springwire hopes to continue.  They shared the program design and training materials developed during the pilot to Catholic Community Services for use the King County Coordinated Entry program.

For more information, contact Andrea John Smith andreajs@springwire.us .