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September 12, 2019

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New technologies help homeless return

Shanghai’s shelters are using new technologies such facial recognition and DNA matching to help the long-term homeless reunite with their families. 

Over the past 10 years they have helped around 360 people to return home, local civil affairs authorities said yesterday. 

Shelters usually identify the homeless using traditional methods, such as identifying their accents and dialects, for clues to their hometowns. 

“There has been an increase in homeless people who are mentally handicapped or have mental disorders, making it even more difficult to find their families,” said Kang Qingping, director of Shanghai Shelter. 

“Some cannot even speak and their memories are blank, increasing the difficulty of a family reunion,” said Tang Meiping, director of Shanghai No. 2 Shelter. 

Tang’s shelter provides accommodation for long-term homeless people who cannot be identified. There are 644 people who have lost contact with their families, 324 of whom haven’t been in touch with relatives for over 10 years. 

Sixty percent have mental issues, according to the shelter. 

“When we help them return home, in some cases, even their relatives can’t recognize them due to years’ of lost contact,” said Tang. “Their families burst into tears, which makes us feel our efforts are worth it.”

Kang added: “It is our commitment to help them return home.” 

The successful identification rate of Shanghai Shelter has now reached 99.6 percent.

In July, Shanghai No.2 Shelter helped a mentally disabled man, who had gone missing after a landslide four years ago, to return to his home in Anhui Province’s Xuekengkou Village. 

His family believed he had died in the landslide. 

In another case, the shelter helped a 78-year-old woman return to Daxing Town in Yunnan Province, some 2,300 kilometers from Shanghai. 

The woman, who was dying, wanted to return home to spend the last moments of her life there. The trip took more than 50 hours, including six hours on mountainous roads. 

Three workers of the shelter including a doctor accompanied her on the journey. 


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