Sunday, June 1, 2008

Homeless Identification Project

The Welcome Ministry recently initiated a new project to help homeless people who do not have govern-ment identification. All government resources and many private resources for the poor require government-issued identification as a prerequisite for service. Additionally, the government requires that businesses see identification before hiring, giving permanent or temporary tenancy or providing financial services (e.g., cashing checks and establishing bank accounts). At the same time, the government has made it more difficult and costly to obtain these documents.

Common barriers that make it difficult to obtain identification:

• In order to get California state-issued ID, you are required to have your birth certificate. In order to get your birth certificate, you need a copy of your state-issued ID.

• In order to get a copy of your Social Security card you must have a copy of both your birth certificate and your state-issued ID. Additionally, the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 states that you may only request a copy of your Social Security card five times in your lifetime.

• If you have a copy of your birth certificate that was issued before 2004, it will be considered invalid because it is printed on the wrong type of paper (even if it has a seal).

• Ordering a birth certificate costs $15 to $75; it can take up to a month to arrive. The requirements to obtain your birth certificate vary based on the birth state.

• Many states require that a notary witness your signature when you request a birth certificate, but without proper identification a notary cannot witness a signature unless they personally know the individual.

• You must have a mailing address to receive your state-issued ID, birth certificate or Social Security card. Often when you order a birth certificate, the address it is mailed to must match the address on the credit card that is paying for it.

• You must pay by credit card or check with the same address where the identification will be mailed.

Companioning someone while they secure the identification they need is more than just paperwork. It is an opportunity to advocate for people as a religious leader and to provide pastoral counseling in ways that many people never experience. When a homeless person, who previously has had little or no support, and a chaplain share that person’s birth history, spend two or three hours together on the bus and in the DMV or Social Security office, an incredible amount of spiritual care takes place and friendship develops. Having a compassionate chaplain listen to your stories, fears, joys and hopes can be life-changing.

To staff the Homeless Identification Project, the Welcome Ministry has created a second staff position that is responsible for getting acquainted with people needing ID, establishing a mutually trusting relationship and gaining sufficient personal history information to begin the ID application process. The position also coordinates volunteer participation in the ID project and publicity to attract people who need help and people interested in supporting the project.

Jay Wilson started as the new Assistant Director April 1st. Jay has Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work degrees. He is experienced in assisting individuals and families to access services and understand state, county, Social Security, and educational systems.

-Barry Clagett, Welcome Ministry Treasurer

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