IMPACT
07/22/2015 09:29 am ET

New California Law Gives Free IDs To Homeless People So They Can Access Housing, School

The thing that often stands in the way of a homeless person and housing is just a state-issued identification. But a new law in California is making sure that its residents are no longer stranded on the streets because of that issue.

In order for a homeless person to do something as simple as apply for a job, enroll in public school or access homeless shelters and food stamps, they need to provide official identification. But those IDs often get lost or stolen and homeless people lack the funds and resources to obtain new driver's licenses or birth certificates.

"If you're living on the street it's very difficult to keep ahold and keep your documents safe,” Janet Kelly, a senior attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, told Hawaii News Now. 

But a new California law, which went into effect this month, is making the process of obtaining identification much easier by requiring state recorders to hand them out for free, the Sacramento Bee reported. 

Davida Gomez, who has been homeless for five months, felt particularly heartened by the new law.

Gomez has three kids and each birth certificate would’ve previously cost her $28. The DMV charges $26 for a new ID card and $8 for certain people living on low-income salaries.

Those were expenses Gomez simply couldn’t afford before on her monthly $785 public assistance checks, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Now, that she can get those IDs for free, she'll be able to transition her children from a local charity school to public school and move out from friends’ houses and into their own place.

The bill was inspired by Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who lived on the streets of Fullerton, California, and had schizophrenia, according to KCET. Thomas was beaten by three police officers in 2011 and died five days later. 

"We are making sure they have IDs to access the services to get back on feet -- either social services or mental health services," Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva told KCET. "This is a simple step. Let's just get these IDs in their hands."

California’s government officials have stepped in where nonprofits often have to pick up the slack in other states.

In Central Florida, for example, IDignity –- a group formed by five churches –- helps homeless people navigate the bureaucratic process of obtaining identification. 

Since 2008, the organization has held monthly events to help clients in need and typically serves about 225 people each time. The demand is so great that IDignity often has to turn people away, according to the group’s website.

In Hawaii, Waikiki Health and Legal Aid Society typically pitch in to help homeless people gather the documents they need so that they can move on with their lives.

But while homeless shelters, and other programs, require identification so that they can perform background checks and other safety measures, advocates say that the system is flawed and inherently preclusive.

“We've created a system that keeps the barriers up for people. It's not an easy system to access,” Joy Rucker, director for community services at Waikiki Health, told Hawaii News Now. "If people don't have a place to live and all their stuff organized -- it's a nightmare. It's just a nightmare."

CONVERSATIONS