Streamlined path to IDs benefits homeless

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Under AB 1733, individuals facing homelessness can apply for an ID and a birth certificate at no cost in California.

By Jackeline Luna –

After a shoulder injury forced David to retire prematurely from a job he held for over 30 years, he struggled to adjust to life on a reduced income. Before he knew it, he was out on the streets, his California ID had expired, and he couldn’t justify spending money on a new one.

“I simply didn’t have a car and every last dollar I have goes to just surviving,” he said. “So I didn’t have the cash or ride to go to the DMV. I didn’t have the money to do it because I go from month to month right now because I’m still looking for work.”

This posed a problem: without an ID, individuals facing homelessness cannot apply for employment, housing, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Social Security Insurance, and other critical services to help them get off the streets. Most shelters even deny them entry without an ID.

“We always try and sit down with people and figure out a game plan, whether that’s finding a job, finding a [long-term] shelter to stay at, or applying for benefits,” said Shannon Lamb, homeless services coordinator at The Salvation Army Santa Ana Hospitality House in Fullerton, Calif., which does allow homeless individuals entry without an ID. “But really, you can’t do any of that without an ID. If someone comes in without an ID card, the only option is to start by getting them that. Otherwise, they can’t move forward.”

The cost for an original California ID is $26 or $8 for individuals that qualify for low-income assistance programs. Only an original birth certificate is required. In some states such as New York, the price for a new ID is relatively cheaper, $10, but the applicant must also present a birth certificate, a Social Security card and another document such as a bank statement or utility bill that proves they are a resident of the state. Obtaining these additional documents to apply for an ID also raises the overall price an individual must pay to obtain access to social services.

According to the Homeless ID Project, up until last year, only North Carolina, Nevada, Connecticut and Illinois offered fee waivers for IDs if an individual is able to demonstrate that they are homeless.

California recently joined the list when AB 1733 went into effect July 1, 2015. Before that, only birth certificates were covered by waiver under that same law.

Sharon Quirk-Silva, former mayor of Fullerton, coauthored the legislation after entering the national spotlight when Kelly Thomas, a homeless man suffering from schizophrenia, died in the custody of six police officers. The event pressured the city to re-examine the police department’s use of excessive force and to create better solutions for its homeless population.

“When you really look at those experiencing homelessness as a whole, you see it’s multifaceted, and that it’s many, many sequences of events that lead to someone being homeless, and then when you look at what we can do to actually alleviate it, we find out there’s many barriers,” Quirk-Silva said. “Some of the simplest solutions are really what led us to AB 1733.”

Under AB 1733, individuals facing homelessness can apply for an ID and a birth certificate at no cost. They are limited to a one-time fee waiver for each document. As mandated by the law, a nonprofit or homeless liaison must verify that the person is in fact homeless, using the federal McKinney-Vento definition for “homeless person.”

The fee waiver is a welcome addition for many, but perhaps the more noteworthy change brought on by AB 1733 is the simplification of the entire process.

“Our shelter is only a 14-day emergency shelter,” Lamb said. “Some guys come in and they’re only here two nights, and for some reason or another, they don’t come back. [Before AB 1733] we’d have to write a check request [to cover the fee for an ID], we’d have to get the check request to our accountant who sends it to [Territorial Headquarters] that sends out the check. By the time that happens, the guy is gone.”

During David’s short stay at the Santa Ana Hospitality House, he received a fee waiver for his California ID as well as some additional case management. He even attended a job fair the Hospitality House told him about. Now that he is applying for jobs, he realized that the nine digits he memorized during his teen years aren’t enough proof.

“I’m going to have to go get a Social Security card,” he said.  

And you can bet that when he does, he’ll need ID.

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