Token Economics To Help The Homelessby@startuphackers
785 reads
785 reads

Token Economics To Help The Homeless

by VarunMay 23rd, 2018
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

I spent a day attending a blockchain unconference in NYC recently. Being tight on budget, I didn’t book a hotel room for my very brief visit (and didn’t want to bother friends/family either), and ended up “co-habiting” a local Starbucks in the Times Square area with other homeless people who used it as a “sitting” space until it shut down for the night. Hotels were running at over $1000/night; and Airbnbs were not a viable option either. I started to feel panic around midnight!

Companies Mentioned

Mention Thumbnail
Mention Thumbnail
featured image - Token Economics To Help The Homeless
Varun HackerNoon profile picture

Using tokens and blockchain there is a path to helping improve the lives’ of homeless people on our city streets. This is a call for ideas, feedback and a plea to work together to solve this issue.

Experiencing brief homelessness during #BlockchainWeekNYC

I spent a day attending a blockchain unconference in NYC recently. Being tight on budget, I didn’t book a hotel room for my very brief visit (and didn’t want to bother friends/family either), and ended up “co-habiting” a local Starbucks in the Times Square area with other homeless people who used it as a “sitting” space until it shut down for the night. Hotels were running at over $1000/night; and Airbnbs were not a viable option either. I started to feel panic around midnight!

This was during Consensus 2018, at the peak of blockchain week NYC, when multi-million dollar parties were thrown around, and a lot of crypto-driven folks converged in the city.

For those brief moments, the following thoughts went through my head:

Will I be safe as the night falls ? Will my belongings be safe ? What happens if I get robbed ? How will I get to where I need to if I get robbed or run out of cash ?

Walking around the city blocks I noticed how desperate for basic needs of life the people on the street were. I saw a woman crying, holding her head down on a railing in front of a theatre as another woman stared at her blankly. I saw others resigned to their fate. I saw people who had learned to ignore the homeless as living, breathing people.

Unfortunately that is a common sight no matter which city you go to — from Toronto, to New York City to San Francisco to New Delhi — there are simply a lot of people living on the streets.

Why are we ok with this ? What is the solution to this ? How do we bring respect back to people ? Can token economics help ?

New York City Homelessness: The Basic Facts

Basic Facts About Homelessness: New York City — Coalition For The Homeless_The Coalition for the Homeless provides up-to-date information on New York City’s homeless population. In recent years…

The following stats are verbatim/copied as-is from the above link:

  • In recent years, homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • In March 2018, there were 62,974 homeless people, including 15,393 homeless families with 23,110 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system. Families make up three-quarters of the homeless shelter population.
  • Over the course of City fiscal year 2017, more than 129,803 different homeless men, women, and children slept in the New York City municipal shelter system. This includes over 45,000 different homeless New York City children.
  • In 2015, families entering shelter came from a few clustered zip codes in the poorest neighborhoods in New York City.
  • The number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is now 83 percent higher than it was ten years ago.
  • Research shows that the primary cause of homelessness, particularly among families, is lack of affordable housing. Surveys of homeless families have identified the following major immediate, triggering causes of homelessness: eviction; doubled-up or severely overcrowded housing; domestic violence; job loss; and hazardous housing conditions.
  • Research shows that, compared to homeless families, homeless single adults have much higher rates of serious mental illness, addiction disorders, and other severe health problems.
  • Each night thousands of unsheltered homeless people sleep on New York City streets, in the subway system, and in other public spaces. There is no accurate measurement of New York City’s unsheltered homeless population, and recent City surveys significantly underestimate the number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.
  • Studies show that the large majority of street homeless New Yorkers are people living with mental illness or other severe health problems.
  • African-American and Latino New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by homelessness. Approximately 58 percent of New York City homeless shelter residents are African-American, 31 percent are Latino, 7 percent are white, less than 1 percent are Asian-American, and 3 percent are of unknown race/ethnicity.

Key structural problems faced by the homeless

Problem #1: Lack of assets

The homeless don’t have money, don’t own land, property, stocks, bonds, or own any tangible asset which can they use directly or indirectly. If they had, they won’t be sleeping on the streets and scavenging for food.

How can the society “give” them assets ?

Problem #2: Lack of identity

Due to lack of assets, and a combination of mental illness which causes homelessness in the first place, maintaining and keeping identity documents is unpractical. Homeless people don’t have side-tables, closets, bank accounts or mobile phones to even keep these documents in any form. In fact anything of slight value which they acquire makes them targets for robbery and theft. It is better for them to not be physically carrying anything which is remotely valuable. This then affects access to services, continuing to amplify their misery.

How can their identity be determined without requiring knowledge or possession of an identity document ?

Problem #3: Lack of reputation

For people connected to the digital world, for example even those using Facebook, there is a steady stream of activities, mutual connections, and so on which signal reputation to 3rd parties — that helps with job opportunities, social connections and so on.

For a homeless person, who does not have an Internet-connected smartphone, the reputation does not exist. The same person could have lived on the same street corner for several years, but is disconnected from the world around him/her.

How can they build their reputation while being disconnected from the digital world ?

Problem #4: Lack of discoverability

Being disconnected from the digital world brings another unique set of disadvantages to the homeless — they have to struggle to make their presence felt. This evolves into a strategy of more desperate you are = more you might be able to earn in sympathy, left over coins from passersby.

How do you make the homeless more “visible” to folks glue to their smartphones ?

Problem #5: Lack of spare change <> usage of digital currency

Use of cash is declining, we mostly don’t carry coins with us anymore. Governments, tech companies, massive amounts of capital and the brightest talent in the world are all working towards replacing cash with digital currency. Since the homeless are not carrying Internet-connected smartphones, they are left out of this economy.

In a perverse way — while the economy is getting tougher, inequality is rising, population is rising — somewhere along the way creating more homeless, the ability for good people to donate some cash to them is declining.

How can good samaritans give spare “change” to the homeless in a digital currency world ?

How can token economics help ?

Issued as part of a community system, tokens which eventually go on to hold value can help in improving the lives of the homeless around the city. Such a system could work in the following way:

  • Iris-scan based digital identity: Select city services install iris-scanning equipment and encourage the homeless to register. The iris-scan is what establishes identity, and this is stored on the blockchain. No city service, no corrupt government official — nobody can take this back/modify it once it is established. Most importantly, this is not stored on a physical piece of paper or requires a digital device which can be and will be stolen on the streets.
  • Onboarding tokens granted and associated with each identity: Upon this registration, a good enough number of tokens associated with our digital community platform are awarded.
  • System of reputation developed: Various establishments are setup in a way where the homeless can earn/spend these tokens: for example for a shower in a mobile shower bus. Not only do these transactions provide individual benefit, over a longer period of time they build a reputation — a history of transactions: what, when, where, for how long. This becomes their “credit score” over a period of time.
  • Redeem tokens for food: Select food establishments partner up to install iris-scanning machines; tokens automatically deducted from the account.
  • Universal distribution: People don’t pick and choose whom to give money to — instead they buy tokens, giving each token a value. This is direct transfer of money in the form the homeless can use instantly.
  • Visibility of registered homeless and what they got from others available on an app. In addition there might be specific needs and an ability to efficiently match people with donations/skills/random jobs available.
  • Periodic allocation — to continuously build their token supply. The system auto-distributes tokens to the homeless every day from its reserve supply.
  • Incentivize other activities: For example, annual health check-ups could come with earn-out of 100 additional tokens.
  • The token ownership associated with the iris-identity becomes worth a lot one day if the underlying platform takes off, functioning as a lottery ticket. It is better than nothing right now.
  • Exposing / efficiently matching good samaritans with homeless people looking for help — whether it be through jobs, items, food and so on.
  • Breaking the cycle: Imagine you have been living on the streets for 6 months. You have landed a job interview — but you need to improve your appearance for that. A shower and a good night’s sleep would be great — but you don’t have money to rent a room. Maybe these tokens are acceptable at certain rooms/locations/motels near you where you can take a shower.

What’s next here: a detailed whitepaper, based on community feedback

Lets work together ?

I am interested in building such a system, one which doesn’t start with allocating tokens to already wealthy investors, but starts in a reverse way — gives out initially worthless tokens to the homeless first; and then works to build value. That way, every day I walk into work, and grow the platform, I know I am directly helping the most at-risk segment of our population - the homeless - lead a better life, and providing hope where none existed. These are early ideas for a social cause, for a venture which is non-profit in its outlook — any feedback/thought/criticism is of course welcome.

If you want to work together, let me know. I am not interested in just publishing a whitepaper and calling it a day — but in actually delivering a practical system to market which works for the next several decades. We only live once so lets do something long lasting and good for humanity.