New Digital Data Locker May Help People Find Stable Housing

Posted September 27, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A close-up image of a cell phone held in a person's hand, with his or her thumb hovering over the screen.

Peo­ple with­out sta­ble hous­ing must deal with crit­i­cal chal­lenges, such as fig­ur­ing out where to sleep, how to stay safe and how to rebuild their lives.

They also face a less obvi­ous chal­lenge: how to store and keep track of impor­tant doc­u­ments, includ­ing those that prove iden­ti­ty, cit­i­zen­ship, legal res­i­den­cy, vet­er­an sta­tus or a dis­abil­i­ty, as well as forms need­ed to estab­lish cred­it or prove income. With­out these doc­u­ments, the path out of home­less­ness can be far more difficult. 

For those stay­ing in a shel­ter or shut­tling between oth­er people’s homes, keep­ing track of these vital doc­u­ments can be near impos­si­ble. They also can be lost, destroyed or stolen.

Rec­og­niz­ing that this was block­ing some peo­ple from secur­ing sta­ble hous­ing, the city of Bal­ti­more this year launched an inno­v­a­tive pro­gram — My Dig­i­tal Data Lock­er — to help peo­ple store and keep track of key documents.

What Is My Dig­i­tal Data Locker?

The new tool — fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Kaiser Per­ma­nente, New Amer­i­ca and the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion — allows peo­ple deal­ing with a hous­ing cri­sis to store dig­i­tal copies of vital doc­u­ments and share them elec­tron­i­cal­ly when apply­ing for ser­vices offered by the city or oth­er providers. To use it, a per­son snaps pho­tos of doc­u­ments and uploads them to a secure, per­son­al dig­i­tal stor­age site. When need­ed to apply for hous­ing or sup­port ser­vices, the doc­u­ments can be shared with a few clicks on a phone or tablet.

A Pub­lic-Pri­vate Partnership

The Mayor’s Office of Home­less Ser­vices and the Bal­ti­more City Con­tin­u­um of Care rec­og­nized the need to pro­vide this kind of resource — which has been used in oth­er cities — and con­nect­ed with Ama­zon Web Ser­vices (AWS) to devel­op the plat­form. AWS col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Con­tin­u­um of Care’s Lived Expe­ri­ence Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee to under­stand the needs of peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing a hous­ing cri­sis before devel­op­ing the pro­to­type. New America’s Dig­i­tal Impact and Gov­er­nance Ini­tia­tive refined it with sup­port from soft­ware firm, Two Bulls.

End­ing home­less­ness is a com­mu­ni­ty effort and My Dig­i­tal Data Lock­er Bal­ti­more is a won­der­ful exam­ple of pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tor part­ners lend­ing fund­ing, exper­tise and inno­va­tion to bet­ter serve our neigh­bors expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness in the hous­ing appli­ca­tion process,” says Tisha S. Edwards, who was act­ing direc­tor of the Mayor’s Office of Home­less Ser­vices when the pro­gram began. Doc­u­ments are fre­quent­ly lost, stolen or destroyed dur­ing a hous­ing cri­sis. Now, by snap­ping a pho­to with a cell phone and upload­ing it to a secure account, these doc­u­ments will be more eas­i­ly main­tained. Bal­ti­more is proud to pilot this program.”

The My Dig­i­tal Data Lock­er ini­tia­tive is part of a broad­er move­ment in Bal­ti­more City to address home­less­ness. In Feb­ru­ary 2021, the Mayor’s Office of Home­less Ser­vices and the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion Motor Vehi­cle Admin­is­tra­tion announced a new part­ner­ship aimed at secur­ing state-issued iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards for indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­enc­ing homelessness.

These are impor­tant steps toward remov­ing hous­ing bar­ri­ers and enabling all peo­ple who live in Bal­ti­more City to access much need­ed resources and sup­port,” says Tal­ib Horne, direc­tor of Casey’s Bal­ti­more Civic Site.

Read more about Casey’s work to fos­ter hous­ing secu­ri­ty dur­ing the pandemic

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