Homeless people need identification documentation for the same reasons that housed people need ID: to prove who they are, to become eligible for services and for their own self-esteem.
However, for homeless people, having personal IDs is truly a matter of survival. All government assistance programs require identification documentation as the follow examples show.
- Without ID, homeless people cannot get food stamps, so they may not have money to buy food.
- Nor can they get general relief (welfare) to pay for lodging, for example, without proving who they are.
- Senior homeless people need ID to get Social Security benefits.
- Homeless people with physical or mental disabilities which prevent them from working can only rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they have ID.
- If homeless people have worked 5 years out of the last 10 and are unable to work because of a disability, they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with ID.
My previous article, "The Trifecta of Identification," set forth the numerous steps that it takes anyone to get ID. For a person without a home or resources, each step can be a major hurdle to getting identification.
But how do homeless people feel about having or not having ID? I asked a number of homeless youth and adults this question. I am grateful to each person for his/her response.
Lily, 27 years old:
"I have no ID of any kind because my stuff was stolen. I had my California ID stolen downtown. Without ID, it's kinda hard. I couldn't get a hotel room last night because I had no ID. Someone else did it. But, I was bummed. It wasn't good. I'd like to get an ID, but I don't have the money."
T.J., 19 years old: "ID is pretty important. You need it for most things.
"I have all my IDs -- birth certificate, social security card and photo ID. I feel better having ID because I don't get a ticket for not having ID. I can buy cigarettes and get a hotel room."
Wayne M. F. Robbins, Jr., 21 years old: "Personally, I think ID is a separation of who I am. Most people don't ask, 'Who are you?' They ask for your ID."
"I feel like a slave. My parents gave me that name, but if my ID is not current or if it's broken, you can get in trouble, or fined. My ID is crinkled at the corners, so I have to buy another one. How much is an ID? $35?"
"IDs and social security cards aggravate me. I don't feel that I should be tied down to 9 digits..."
Erin Kuklis, 22 years old: "I have no ID. I think ID is a waste of time and they have too much info on them. I'm from Alaska. I came here in August. "
"One of my military cards, driver's license and social security card -- my whole purse with all my IDs is gone. My ID was stolen. My bank account was wiped out. There are three other people pretending to me. Those people have my parents' address so they know where my parents live. There's way too much info on IDs."
"I can't get a California ID because I have nothing showing who I am. When they [DMV] look me up, they don't believe it's me..."
Over the past six and a half months, our Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) helped the following homeless individuals complete the steps necessary to obtain ID. I thank each of them for their comments.
Logan, 49 years old: "No ID means you're not even 'Mr. Nobody.' You can't get work. You can't cash your check. The police don't like the idea [that you have no ID]. You have to eat out of the dumpsters. You have to beg for food."
"A closed mouth don't get fed. I asked the manager, 'If I pick up all the trash in the parking lot, can you throw me something to eat?' A few times they say, 'No,' but at some point they say, 'Yes.'"
"Now [that I have ID,] I feel excellent ... I have options now. I couldn't get my medication without ID."
"Having ID makes me feel really good. If I work, I can cash a check. If I get stopped by the cops, it's valid information."
John, 59 years old: "Before I had ID, I couldn't do anything. After I got ID, I could do things ... go to stores, all that."
Nameless, 48 years old: "[Before CJSC got my birth certificate and replaced my social security card and Medi-Cal card,] I only had my California photo ID. I wasn't worried about ID then. I didn't really think about it until I went to a doctor's appointment and they needed more ID."
"Now that I've got all of my ID, I'm worried about hanging on to it. Hopefully, I can hang on to it. That's my biggest concern. I'm worried I could lose my ID."
I look forward to your comments. Thank you.