Facial recognition, DNA matching help reunite China's homeless with their families

In China, rescue stations that take in the homeless and mentally ill people tend to be run by the government. Some have policies that after 10 days of free accommodations and food, they are issued a ticket to return to their home towns. As you'll read below, finding long-lost families – particularly relatives of people with dementia or other disabilities – can be challenging. But smart technologies are helping. – Philip Bane


Not everyone who is homeless wants to return to their families or home towns for various reasons. Reports from China suggest that even in harsh winters, homeless people may avoid rescue stations for that reason.

But there are others who have been living on the streets a long time and don't know how to reconnect with their families. Some may suffer dementia or other mental problems that make it difficult to communicate or recall details of their past lives.

The Shanghai Rescue Mission has turned to the Internet, facial recognition, DNA matching and other advanced technologies to help locate the families of its clients it serves, which includes seniors and children.

Ding Huirong, Party secretary of the station, told the Shanghai Daily that they publish information about clients on the Internet and urge people to offer clues to their identity.

Ding says traditional approaches like verifying appearance, accents and the like can result in a 70% to 80% success rate for identification. But when new technologies are introduced, the success rate can exceed 95%.

One recent success story involved a 70-year-old man from the Luqiao District in Taizhou. He wasn't able to recall his family address or contacts. But after sending his information to cell phone users in Luqiao, a woman responded who thought he might be her father, who had been missing 20 years.

But the man, who had mental problems, insisted the surname she gave was not his and that he didn't have a daughter.

DNA testing proved otherwise.

"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,” his daughter said.

Last month the man was welcomed back home, reunited with his daughter and his 95-year-old mother.

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