Shelter eyes fingerprint scans, ID cards for homeless

Sarah Chapman

A Calgary homeless shelter is considering a high-tech security system that would require fingerprint scans and photo ID cards from people looking for a warm, safe place to spend the night.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Drop-In Centre said Thursday the shelter is pricing new security measures that could include biometric technology, such as fingerprints.

The effort to ramp up security comes after a survey at the shelter showed more than half of 284 users were concerned about their safety while there.

“There would be a desk where people [would] have to swipe their cards,” said Louise Gallagher, manager of resource development and public relations.

“The cost of implementing it is probably much less than not implementing it.”

News of stricter security procedures came as a relief to some homeless patrons of the Drop-In Centre.

“When you’re sleeping upstairs and you have a blanket and it’s cold, that blanket means a lot,” said Oscar Laboucan, who has been staying at the Drop-In Centre for about five months.

“They’ll come and steal it from you. They’ll steal anything from you,” he said of others who stay at the shelter.

The centre wants to maintain a database of client identities. The cards could help identify individuals who previously have been barred from the centre.

“Our clients are much more likely to experience an act of violence than everyday Calgarians,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher did not know what the costs could be for implementing the new system, but said an outside consulting firm is preparing a report that is expected to be completed soon.

The centre is also considering adding more security guards, Gallagher said.

She said she did not know if other shelters have used ID cards or similar security measures.

A biometrics consultant based in New York City said he hasn’t heard of any similar agencies currently using the technology.

“The reason why some have shied away from it in the past is the perception by those who are tenants — particularly some are averse to the perceived privacy invasiveness of some of the technology, whether it’s true or not,” said Victor Lee, a senior consultant with International Biometric Group.

Lee said equipment costs are minimal and fingerprint scanners can be purchased for as little as a few hundred dollars.

He estimated the cost of a fingerprint ID system for 1,000 clients could run between a couple of thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.