Bergen finger scanning program used to count homeless population expanding statewide

By on May 17, 2013

Santa Claus used to make a lot of visits to the homeless shelter on River Street.

At least, that’s the name many people wrote down when they signed in to get a free meal at the shelter.

But the sign-in system didn’t give the Bergen County Department of Human Services, which runs the shelter, an accurate number of how many people were using the meals. They couldn’t tell which Santa was which, and how many meals they needed to feed the Santas.

That changed in 2010, when the county contracted with New Jersey Business Systems for $90,000 to install and maintain a biometric data management system at the shelter. Now, rather than sign in, people using services at the shelter instead have their fingers scanned and entered into software that tracks how often they come in.

The system scans a small portion of a person’s fingerprint, rather than recording the whole thing, to protect the privacy of those scanned.

Using the data, the department of Human Services can tell all those Santas apart, and discern patterns in how people use the shelter. For example, they can tell that more people come in for free meals toward the end of the month.

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