AUSTIN (KXAN) — Developers working with the city of Austin are moving forward with plans to create digital IDs for the city’s homeless population despite missing out on $1 million in grant funding up for grabs.

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the winners of the 2018 U.S. Mayors Challenge grant competition earlier this week. The city of Georgetown was one of nine winners and received a grant to develop a “virtual power plant” by paying property owners to install solar panels.

For the last six months, KXAN has been following Austin’s bid for funding, a proposal called “MyPass” to use encrypted blockchain technology to help the city’s homeless store identification cards, medical documents, and other important information electronically.

Those types of documents can be difficult to keep track of, even with a permanent address. For someone living on the street, access to medical care and other services can be difficult or impossible to pursue without them.

“In the end, you want to use this type of system and be able to help that person,” said Frank Robles, vice president for operations at the technology company DigitalTown.

Robles’ team was one of two groups to win a hackathon sponsored by the city over the summer. The goal of that event was to brainstorm how to use blockchain to give people access to important documents without having to physically carry them around.

Even though the city lost out on the grant funding, Robles told KXAN he’s still moving forward with the idea.

His team developed a system using QR codes printed on physical cards that link to individual encrypted accounts. Anyone with a smartphone can scan the code and, say, send money to the account. Doctors can also scan it and upload medical records. Each person would have their own PIN number that they’d use to control who sees those documents once they’re on the account.

Unlike a driver’s license, if someone loses the QR code card, it doesn’t require a long process to get another.

“This is easily replaced,” Robles said. “They can just go to a service center or a library and just print this out. That’s the difference.”

DigitalTown plans to release a version of the cards publicly before the end of the year.

The other winners of the hackathon, led by developer Andrew Overby, also plan to launch their idea in the remaining weeks of 2018. 

Their proposal uses a digital wallet to store IDs and documents that a person can access either from a smartphone app or a regular web browser. 

Overby told KXAN they plan to start with cards for the Medical Access Program, an initiative through Austin’s Central Health to increase the availability of healthcare for people who need it.

One of the challenges, he said, is making sure doctors can use the digital wallet without a lot of hassle.

“Service providers need to have something that will fit more or less easily into their existing workflow,” Overby said.

Both he and Robles plan to keep pursuing their ideas with or without the city’s backing.

Sly Majid, chief services officer in the mayor’s office, said they didn’t find any perfect products from the hackathon that they’re ready to take citywide. But even without the grant, he said, they’re not abandoning the project.

The city has already applied for a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and they’re seeking other funding as well, Majid said. 

He believes the city needs to be involved with any digital ID project moving forward because of the scope of the work. City staff understand the ecosystem better, he said.

With local and national attention focused on the project, he added, there’s a strong drive to keep developing it into something the city’s homeless population and the people who serve them can use.

Robles wants the city involved moving forward, too, though he sees its role as more focused on awareness and understanding the system. Companies like his can handle the technology, he said.

“There might be several companies with something like this,” Robles said. “As long as they’re serving the community and they all work and the data can be shared, you know, that’s the goal.”