Smart technology helps to reunite homeless with anxious families

Updated 2017-07-05 09:30:05 Shanghai Daily

Homeless people are being returned to their families thanks to smart technology.

Shanghai Rescue Station is using new technologies like face recognition and DNA matching to identify them.

The station rescues about 15,000 people every year, some of whom suffer from dementia or have mental problems, making it difficult to find their families, said Ding Huirong, Party secretary of the station.

On average nearly 1,000 homeless people the station deals with each year — about 6 percent of the total — cannot be identified due to physiological and psychological reasons, according to Ding.

Some of them have been living on the streets for a long time and have become anxious after losing contact with their relatives. The station's clientele includes children and seniors.

Shanghai Rescue uses the Internet to publish relevant information, urging online users to contribute clues.

"Traditional ways like verifying their accent, clothing, appearance, personal items and communication for clues to their hometown can secure about 70 to 80 percent of success rate for identification, while new technologies such as electronic information, face recognition and DNA matching can lift the rate to over 95 percent," said Ding.

Every homeless person will have their face photographed when they register information at the station, and the pictures of those who cannot be identified are sent to the police database for identification. For those who cannot be identified within seven days after being received at the station, a DNA blood sample is collected and sent to police for matching.

The station has also set up its own face recognition and fingerprint comparison system, and homeless people who visit the station will be identified immediately if they have been to the station before.

The station tells how it recently helped a man in his 70s to find his family. He was spotted and suspected of being lost in Santang Village in Qingpu District and was sent by the Qingpu rescue station to the Shanghai station.

He could not write and his accent could not be recognized. His personal belongings did not reveal any clues. A notice was published online, but nobody came forward to identify him.

His photograph was then sent to Shanghai police and facial recognition helped them to identify him.

The man lived in Huangyan District in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province. His anxious family has alerted Fengxian District Public Security Bureau earlier and had been trying to find him for several days.

When reunited at the station the man and his relatives burst into tears of relief, officials said.

In another case, the station received a 70-year-old man from Luqiao District in Taizhou in late April. He was not able to recall his family address and contacts. His information was sent to cell phone users in Luqiao, and a woman surnamed Liang said he might be her father who had been missing for over 20 years.

The man had suffered from mental problems and his possible daughter could not recognize him after such a long time. Furthermore, the man insisted he was not surnamed Liang and he had no daughter.

But a DNA test proved they were related by blood.

"We believed he had died, and could not imagine he would be back one day, which was a dream come true because we missed him so much," said Liang.

"We are so happy to welcome him back," she said. He returned home on June 22, and his mother, 95, was at last able to be reunited with her son.

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