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, the city’s civil affairs authorities said on Wednesday.
Shelters usually identify the homeless using traditional methods, such as identifying their accents and dialects, for clues to their hometowns, officials said.
“There has been an increase in homeless people who are mentally retarded or have mental disorders, making it even more difficult to find their families,” said Kang Qingping, director of the Shanghai Shelter.
“Some can not even speak and their memories are blank, increasing the difficulty of a family reunion,” said Tang Meiping, director of the 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 10 years.
Sixty percent have mental problems, according to the shelter.
“When we help them return home, in some cases, even their relatives cannot recognize them due to years’ of lost contact,” said Tang. “Their families burst into tears of excitement, which makes us feel our efforts are worth it.”
Kang added: “It is our commitment to help them return home.”
In July, the No. 2 Shelter helped a mentally retarded 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 and at altitudes over 3,000 meters.
Three workers of the shelter including a doctor accompanied her on the journey.
The successful identification rate of the Shanghai Shelter has now reached 99.6 percent.