Difficulty with IDs


Your ID. I’m sure you take it for granted. Maybe you even hate it… that lousy picture… having to renew it from time to time…. it only comes to your attention as an inconvenience. However, it is very important to you.

If you were homeless, the chances are near 100% that your stuff will get stolen or lost within 3 months. I find it hard to have compassion for people who steal from people who have nothing, but perhaps it is more often really lost than stolen. *When* you get picked up for warrants… in Austin, sleeping outside is illegal, sitting on the sidewalk is illegal, and panhandling within so many feet of a crosswalk/roadway is illegal, so you’re going to get a ticket and that means going to jail 30 days later when you have a warrant for not paying your $150 ticket… when you get picked up by the police, you have no place to put your stuff, so your stuff often gets stolen. As amazing as it seems, many of my clients go to jail and the police don’t return their ID. I’ve spoken with public defenders about this and they say it is common… the arresting officer keeps the ID for his report and then nobody ever asks for it back. Anyway… chances are you’re going to lose your ID if your homeless.
Good luck getting food stamps. Good luck getting work… except the kinds that pays cash… if you’re lucky enough to have an honest employer that pays you at all. Good luck applying for school or grants. Good luck opening a bank account to keep your cash safe. Good luck even cashing a check! Good luck getting off the street!
So… you need to get your ID. Do you know you need to have ID to get ID? Since 9/11, the US has significantly tightened documentation in this country. Too tight for the homeless at the bottom of our society. To get your ID you most commonly would use a social security card. To get your social security card you most commonly need your birth certificate. To get your birth certificate you need… you guessed it… ID. Unless you can go to the place in person (what if you’re adopted? what is you’re born in another state?), you need ID! I have one client now who needs his birth certificate from Virginia right now. I called and spoke with very nice people in the office there. Unless I am immediate family (he is estranged from his family and they will not help him) or a licensed social worker (I am a missionary but not a social worker) or a government worker providing services to him (he is not eligible for government services without ID!), then I cannot get his ID for him! I can order it online for $50 from several services, but only if I lie and say I am him (which I can’t do because it’s immoral and because my credit card name doesn’t match his) or pay with his credit card (which he can’t get because… you guessed it… he doesn’t have ID).
90% (that’s off the top of my head… but it’s close) of the homeless surveyed in Austin want to work if it will pay enough to get off the street. A third (also off the top of my head) of the people who want to work lack identification as the major barrier to work. I’ll wager that the City of Austin (or other cities and states) will incarcerate most of these people at least once in the next 6 months. For the cost of one night stay in jail, I bet we could buy their ID for them and thus help many back to productivity and avoid future incarceration and social service costs.
Join me in praying for sanity in the ID situation. We need to make being able to identify yourself a right if we make identifying yourself a requirement.
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