Rules Changes Make Life Even Harder for Homeless Neighbors

ID_vote_1Living with homelessness is hard enough.  Try getting out of homelessness without an ID.  Recent changes to the rules for acquiring a Social Security card have made it almost impossible for people who don’t already have a Florida ID to acquire one.  It’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, and those of us who have homes to live in should insist that the rules be changed.

Imagine that you are homeless.  As often happens to people in your situation, your Social Security card has been stolen along with all your other possessions.  To get a job or to apply for housing or other benefits, you’ll need an ID issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.  How do you get one?

Well, first you’ll need to prove your identity.  For most folks, that means a certified copy of your birth certificate.  You’ll also need two proofs of Florida residence.  Let’s say you manage to acquire these documents (no easy task if you’re unemployed and living in a shelter).  You’ll also need acceptable proof of your Social Security number.  In theory, you could present a W-2 form, a pay stub, or a10-90 form, but you haven’t got any of those documents. It would be great if you could present a re-issued Social Security card, but you can’t get one of those without more documentation. So you need something from the SSA that proves you have a Social Security number.

Until recently, you could go to the Social Security Administration and, after answering several questions to verify your identity, you could be issued a “Social Security Number Printout.”  With that printout and the other required documents in hand, you could pay the appropriate fee and acquire a Florida ID card from the DMV.

Not any more.  Beginning in July, the Social Security Administration no longer issues Social Security Number Printouts.  To get that Social Security card, you now need to present a an ID or driver’s license.  Of course, you could also present a U.S. passport, US Military ID (not Veteran’s Administration), official government ID, Employee ID, Certificate of Citizenship, life insurance policy, school ID, Medicaid card (not Medicare), certified class transcripts from current year, or a certified copy of medical records – all of which the SSA would accept in lieu of an ID or driver’s license.

Did I mention that you’re homeless?  The average person coping with homelessness doesn’t have any of these alternate forms of ID.  And try getting your own medical records without a valid ID.  Hospitals will not release your records without one.

So you’re stuck in a classic Catch 22.  Federal law requires ID for the issuance of a Social Security card, and Florida law requires a Social Security card for the issuance of an ID.  The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and it’s our homeless neighbors who suffer the consequences.

Several Tallahassee communities of faith, including the one I serve, are working with the Renaissance Community Center and ECHO to cover the fees for homeless neighbors who are trying to get ID’s.  We call the effort “Operation ID.” We’re frustrated by the rules changes, but our frustration is nothing compared to the frustration faced by homeless neighbors.

Common sense and human decency suggest that we should make it easier – not well nigh impossible – for someone coping with homelessness to climb out.  In this post 9/11 era, no one can make that first step without an ID.  Our Federal and State elected officials might not be able to balance the budget or agree on health care reform, but surely they can remove this nonsensical burden from the backs of  homeless neighbors.

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