Helping Gainesville’s Homeless Community Digitally Store Documents

by Mark Watson, Three Rivers Legal Services

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about Gainesville’s homeless community. With the building of a new shelter on 39th Avenue called GRACE Marketplace, the closing of Tent City, the creation of Dignity Village, the closing of Bo Diddley Plaza, and recent efforts to create laws that directly affect the unhoused, there’s surely a lot to talk about. However, if we put aside the controversy and look for simple solutions to old dilemmas, I’ve noticed a real need that has an easy fix. For the last few years while working within the unhoused community, I’ve noticed that often times, folks are not able to obtain social services, apply for jobs, access public benefits, or surmount so many other obstacles, due to a lack of necessary documents needed to open the door to improving their current situation. What if they had a safe free storage space that could be accessed anywhere? Like on the Internet? Cloud-based storage!

It’s no surprise that persons experiencing homelessness are at a higher risk for theft, victimization, loss of possessions, and exposure to the weather. Furthermore, with the general instability of homelessness, keeping important documents and photos safe and undamaged is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, as you most likely know, if you’ve ever tried to get a driver’s license, applied for a job, or walked into a secured building, without important documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, state ID cards, military discharge papers and the like (not even to mention trying to save personal memories and pictures), good luck, because it’s not going to happen and you’re not getting anywhere.

Now compound that with the fact that you’ve been living on the streets and are just trying to get assistance paying for much-needed medications from a local provider and they’re telling you that they can’t help you. Why? Because you can’t prove who you are. Even though you know exactly who you are. What if all that provider had to do was open your Google Drive or Dropbox account, find your ID, birth certificate, or SS card and email themselves a copy? Now the person has proof of who they are, the provider has a copy of their documentation and they’re now able to obtain medicine. It’s such an easy solution!

Three Rivers Legal Services (TRLS) is proposing an outreach project to host document storage drives that assist participants who are homeless in maintaining a safe and secure space for important documents, as well as making it easier for them to gain access to public benefits and services. Participants will establish an account or online identity using cloud-based technology (Google or Dropbox), and TRLS will assist them in scanning important documents to be stored in the cloud.  Additionally, TRLS will store the person’s documents in its own secure case management system, as a back-up to the back-up. If a person indicates that their documents have been lost, stolen, or otherwise destroyed, we will assist them in obtaining replacement documents, if possible, and see that those documents are then securely electronically stored.

What are the benefits? Well, first there’s easy access to documents anywhere an accessible computer is connected to the Internet (computer labs, libraries, etc.). It will also streamline services while helping persons gain access to immediate needs. Additionally, it creates an online identity for people while increasing computer literacy among marginalized populations.

All that’s needed to get the project started is a sturdy lightweight scanner, a sturdy lightweight computer, a portable laminator, laminating sleeves, cards, and extra money for incentives and program expenses. If you could help get this project started, that’d be great! We envision helping at least 100 persons with establishing cloud-based storage and digital identities over the year and hope to expand beyond that in the future.

For information and to make donations go to

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