Cleveland has one of the few Identification Collaborations in the country. It is a small often overlooked matter for most to get that card in your purse and wallet, but it is often the ticket to nearly everything we do. A few non-profits came together seven years ago with the help of an AmeriCorps VISTA member at NEOCH to create a fund to provide identification for homeless people. St Colman's Catholic Church and West Side Catholic took the lead with the project, and NEOCH honored Eileen Kelly earlier this year because of her efforts to keep the project going and including advocacy as a key component of the collaboration. The project is temporarily out of money and this puts all those trying to get a state identification card or their birth certificate at a disadvantage.
This is a horrible time to be out of money with two months left before the upcoming election. Remember that if you want to vote in person on Election Day you must show identification. Most of the ID that is required is tied to housing and a residence (utility bill, government mail to an address, etc.), and of course homeless people do not have a solid residence. Even though early voting is available in Ohio, there are many who want to vote on Election Day with everyone else. In fact, some do not think that it is really voting unless they vote on the first Tuesday in November. Most will not be able to get their birth certificate in time for the registration deadline in Ohio, but it does not hurt to try.
State identification is necessary for getting into housing, starting a job and obtaining health insurance. It can take months to get a birth certificate back from some states, and the expense can be up to $60. We have a system in place to streamline the process for obtaining the birth certificate and they have a law firm that helps with processing the paperwork. The staff and volunteers with the ID Collaborative have a well developed system for paying for the identification and making sure that the individual has all the documents they need for each state. One of the major accomplishments of the ID Collaborative was to hire an advocate to push for better public policy regarding identification. It should be that homeless and low income people should not have to pay for their own document proving they are who they say they are.
The ID Collaborative is a great partnership and involves nearly every social service provider in Cuyahoga County. We hope that in the next month local government officials will announce additional funds to help with identification. There are a few agencies kicking in money for their own clients and the schools and Downtown Cleveland Alliance are still helping with identification. It is such a small hurdle to be able to prove you are who you say you are, but it can be the difference between staying in housing and sleeping outside.
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