Homeless People Have Increasing Trouble Obtaining Identification

by Joe Perrelli

            These days, it has become really important to possess an adequate form of identification. Nearly everything an individual does these days calls for proof of identity. Since national security has become more of a major issue in our nation, it seems that the need for IDs is only going to become more imperative. Then again, that’s not to mention the 10 million Americans in the last year who were hit by identity theft. The amount of time and money that it takes to correct this threat against personal security is incredible.

            Because of the trouble that these issues cause, it has now become difficult, and sometimes impossible, to get a copy of your birth certificate, if you are trying to have it sent through the mail. The birth certificate is often seen as the major starting point for obtaining identification. In states all across the country, prices have continued to soar. For someone, who was born in Ohio, they can end up paying $12-$17 to obtain a certified birth certificate. Others might be expected to pay over three times that amount to receive their birth certificates from out-of-state. Unfortunately, is a huge barrier for many Americans.

            In one instance, there are teenagers who are finally old enough to work and bring money to the family, but are limited by the lack of a birth certificate. Somewhere along the line, it was simply misplaced. It does happen quite frequently. That young person now needs to pay $17 just to get his birth certificate to get his work permit to go to work. And if this family was in a particular situation where the parents were out of work, there would be even more of a need for that birth certificate, and it would be even more difficult to get the money to pay for it. For those who are just trying to cash their checks and find a job, they will get nowhere without ID. If they are able to find work without ID, they will be in for a surprise when they are unable to do anything with their checks on payday.

            Identification is arguably the most basic necessity to life in our modern day civil society. Whenever you try to do anything with city, state, or federal departments, you will run into enough of a hassle as it is. That is the reality of bureaucracies. Now, try getting through the system without having proper identification. It will be impossible to make any progress.

            In the homeless community, many individuals lack a safe place to properly store their IDs. Oftentimes, the IDs (usually birth certificates or social security cards) are destroyed because they are carried around in a wallet or someone’s pocket. This is also the best way to lose your ID. It is then that one would find themselves having to deal with replacing it. Those, who are born in the state of Ohio, need only request their birth certificate at their city or state Health Department, and the document is made available to them. Getting the documents from out-of-state by mail can take a longer period of time and cost even more money. The major problems, then, that a homeless individual will encounter when requesting a birth certificate are the cost of the document and the wait that they may be subjected to. Whatever the case may be, the person will be very inconvenienced.

            There are still some organizations that will assist homeless individuals in getting their identification documents, but the rising cost of identification is putting too much burden on them. It does not seem that possessing an ID document should be a privilege for anyone. It should be considered a right, since it has been made a basic necessity. Lowering the cost of these documents will not pose a threat to security. It will only mean that identification will be more accessible to everyone, especially those who badly need it.

Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio December 2003 Issue 63.