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Debbie Miszak is the MCAH spring semester Communications & Public Policy intern. She grew up in Detroit at the height of the Recession and witnessed people in her neighborhood face homelessness. MCAH’s work to end homelessness in the state is very important to her. 

State IDs are a necessary part of everyday life, and are needed to benefit from many state and federal government services. However, some of the people who need them the most are forced to jump through a variety of hoops to accomplish this. These people are Michigan’s homeless population. The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness has been working to make this an easier process.

According to data that MCAH collected from 92 service providers in 2017, the top three barriers to obtaining a State ID are cost, transportation, and obtaining supporting documentation.

Cost is the largest setback that individuals experiencing homelessness face when trying to get a State ID. While Michigan does have the Free ID for Me program, most individuals experiencing homelessness do not qualify to have the $10 ID fee waived. While $10 may not seem like much, this can sometimes be only the first of many fees that they will face.

Depending on how many trips to the Secretary of State an individual experiencing homelessness might be forced to make, the cost of transportation can also add up. For those living in a rural community, limited access to reliable public transit may result in whole days spent getting to the proper offices. Our data shows that 73% of clients required two or more trips to the Secretary of State to get a State ID, while 33% required three or more trips.

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Aside from cost, there is another huge and glaring issue that individuals experiencing homelessness face with regard to the documentation needed to acquire a State ID: proof of residence.

In order to get a State ID, homeless individuals need access to birth certificates, social security cards, and other records which can cost money to obtain, and can take time to locate. According to our data, obtaining a birth certificate is the most difficult document for people experiencing homelessness to acquire.

A lot of these are needed to prove that individuals are from where they say they are from. The issue that arises is that individuals experiencing homelessness do not have a permanent residence.

The Michigan Secretary of State has established a pilot program in five communities across the state wherein a person experiencing homelessness can use a Homelessness Management Information System [HMIS] ID and a verification letter. MCAH, working with the State ID Taskforce, has been advocating for the Michigan Secretary of State to expand this pilot statewide.

To provide perspective, I spoke to individuals through My Brother’s Keeper who have been through the process of accessing their IDs. . The shelter is located in Genessee County, which is one of the five pilot communities.

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Alvin Montgomery went through the process of getting a State ID with My Brother’s Keeper. Photo by Debra Hayes, My Brother’s Keeper

Alvin Montgomery is a non-combat veteran of the United States Army. He found himself without a State ID after a house fire in Wisconsin while he was a resident there.

He initially hit roadblocks when he first went to the Secretary of State to get his ID.

“I went down [to the Secretary of State] first, but I didn’t have all the documentation I needed,” Montgomery said. “I had to come back with my birth certificate, and My Brother’s Keeper gave me a paper to cover the fee. I went back for it the next day, and I’m waiting for it in the mail now.”

Not only did he need to get his birth certificate, but he also needed his Social Security Card. He said having clearer access to information on what was needed to get his ID would’ve made the process simpler.

“Well for me,  if I would’ve had all the information — it was kind of my fault — because I didn’t ask all the right questions,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t know I would’ve needed my birth certificate. They just told me they needed three pieces of mail and my social security card. All I needed to do was have the correct information and it would’ve made the process a lot easier.”

Montgomery said that with the right information and documentation gathered, the process is much quicker.

While he waits for his ID to arrive, he also has to wait to get housing resources, like HARP, which require photo identification. HARP is the Housing Assistance Recovery Program, which can provide low-income people with Section 8 housing.

This is one of the main reason having access to State IDs is so crucial.

You can’t get anything done without your ID. You can’t access pretty much anything. Just being able to prove who you are is important.

Gregory Wooton, an ex-marine, also had the help of My Brother’s Keeper in gaining his State ID.

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Gregory Wooton was able to access fee waivers in order to obtain his State ID. Photo by Debrah Hayes, My Brother’s Keeper

“My Brother’s Keeper has really opened the doors for me,” Wooton said. “They helped me get my birth certificate. They waived the fees for that. They waive the fees for IDs.”

Organizations around the state fill the gaps when individuals facing homelessness have trouble acquiring state IDs. Not only do they provide transportation and assistance obtaining supporting documents, they also connect clients to services once they have that crucial photo identification.

At the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, we’re working to make it an easier process for people who do not have these resources to get State IDs so that they can navigate their way to success more easily.

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As we move forward, we plan to help individuals experiencing homelessness overcome their situations through policy, and advocacy. On April 11, we will outline our advocacy priorities for the 2018-2019 year, one of which will be creating a simpler process to attain a State ID.

We can’t continue this work without your support. Help us move solutions through the legislative process and give today: https://www.classy.org/campaign/state-id/c174448.

By Debbie Miszak, Communications & Public Policy Intern at Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. You can contact her at: commintern@mihomeless.org

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