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A bit of security for homeless youth, and their documents

Gabriel Spitzer

A Seattle non-profit is trying to help homeless youth back up their important documents. Why does that matter? Well, try getting a job, government benefits or any number of other things necessary to get your life back on track, without proper paperwork. It’s an especially difficult challenge for homeless kids, who have no safety deposit box, no locked file cabinet, maybe not even a safe drawer somewhere.

Steve Albertson of Springwire, a non-profit that began by providing free voicemail service to homeless people, says often the young people just have a bag with everything in it, including their ID, work permits and phone numbers.

“Losing the pieces of paper and the things that identify who you are just causes everything to be slowed. It makes it harder for social workers to help you, it makes it harder for you to get a job, to do any of the things that people do to get out of poverty,” Albertson said.

Giving it a Try

Springwire recently started piloting a program to help homeless young people scan their documents and store them securely online. They set up in an out-of-the-way spot at Seattle’s Orion Center, run by the organization YouthCare. A young woman who goes by Star was the first to try it out, handing over her insurance card and ID to Albertson. Albertson scanned the cards and uploaded them the cloud-based storage service, Google Drive.

Star said the service fills a real need.

“Where I spend a majority of my time is in somewhat of a high-risk environment. A lot of my friends are homeless and do whatever, so things always end up missing. My phone just got stolen like two weeks ago. I really don’t have a lot of safe places to store information. I have, like, friends’ houses. So it would be nice to have all my information in one places that’s accessible to me” Star said.

Privacy Concerns

Just three young people took Alberston up on his offer the first day. He says a number of kids had concerns about the privacy of their information, which he hopes to alleviate with assurances that no one will ask for the young people’s passwords, and that he uses “Department of Defense-grade shredding software” to delete the documents from the local computer he’s using.

Albertson says he hopes to build trust and get more takers next time. Springwire plans to continue its pilot in Seattle and in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and to roll it out more widely starting in the fall.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.