How do you apply for a job or fill out a rental application without a photo ID?
Having a valid piece of identification (ID) is a necessity that many of us take for granted. For many adults, the responsibilities of renewing one’s driver’s license or filling in a Social Security number for a job application are often overlooked as some of the many minuscule chores they must do as an integrated member of society.
“A lack of ID and the difficulty in obtaining ID is truly an issue for our clients that we see each day at the Share Day Center,” said Jillian Daleiden, director of Share Outreach.
So, what are you supposed to do if you’re among the estimated millions of U.S. citizens* who don’t have a photo ID issued by a state, or other proof of your identity, such as a birth certificate?
Several systemic barriers often prevent these individuals from having a valid ID. Without a stable place to call “home,” someone who is
experiencing homelessness faces obstacles both in obtaining and keeping ID safe. A person may not have the means to complete forms such as birth certificates for several reasons, such as not having the necessary parental information, difficulties with reading and writing, or the transportation necessary to travel to the local office of the department of motor vehicles. Money may also be a barrier; in the state of Washington, there is a $54 fee to replace a state-issued ID card.
And for those frequently moving from one location to the next, there may not be the social connections to obtain a guarantor necessary to vouch for their identity. Moreover, even if they do get through this process, there is the additional issue of not having a permanent address where their ID can be mailed to them.
“Being homeless is tough enough. Being homeless without ID is sometimes an insurmountable situation. Our clients must face a system that can be intimidating and difficult,” said Katie Louis, director of Share House.
If you lose any or all three of these A-list pieces of ID—birth certificate, Social Security card or driver’s license—getting them back is a circular problem; you often need one of more of these documents in order to replace the other. The fight against identity theft and illegal immigration are two drivers behind tightening regulations that make getting ID, or replacing it, difficult. “We’re a society that not only depends on but demands you prove who you are,” says Katie. The invisibility that results from not being able to verify one’s identity can lead to barriers in accessing crucial services, such as the health care system.
A lack of ID is a symptom rather than a cause of homelessness. In other words, conditions of homelessness such as lacking secure housing and not having a job and dealing with the everyday realities of extreme poverty, make it difficult to keep and obtain pieces of ID.
There is some good news in the state of Washington. A measure in the state Legislature, Senate Bill 5664, aims to eliminate barriers to ID for homeless people. If passed, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Licensing would be required to create a program to provide homeless individuals with a free ID card, also known as the identicard.
To be eligible for this free card, applicants would have to meet the definition of a sheltered or unsheltered homeless person, reside in Washington state and not have a valid state-issued identicard or driver’s license.
* A 2006 national survey conducted by the Brennan Center found that as many as 11% of American, or more than 21 million people, don’t have a government-issues photo ID, with elderly, minority populations or low-income individuals being least likely to possess ID.
Download a PDF version of the Fall 2019 Edition of ‘Sharing Lives’ to read all the stories from this quarter.