I started looking into the District of Columbia’s photo ID requirements when I heard several formerly homeless men complain about the difficulties their peers have had with a process that’s supposed to enable them to get the ID when they’ve no fixed address and/or can’t afford the fee.
I thought it best to begin with why they, like all District residents, need a photo ID and what the District ordinarily requires to issue one. The District, to its credit, does afford homeless residents several workarounds. So, as promised, a brief look at them.
Homeless people, as I noted, may not have any of the documents applicants must have to prove they’re District residents, e.g., a recent utility bill in their name, a lease or any of several documents homeowners probably have on file somewhere.
There used to be a workaround for those living doubled up with friends or relatives — a form their host could use to certify their residency. Burdensome for the host, who had to show up in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles, with a photo ID and at least two current proofs of residency.
But at least an avenue toward getting a photo ID that anyone could find out about if s/he looked around online. Now it’s open only to minors.
Doubled-up adults can get certification directly from the Department of Human Services, but only if a caseworker provides a letter stating that they’re homeless and can use his/her organization’s mailing address as their own. They’d need a well-informed caseworker to even know what DHS could do.
What about homeless people who live in shelters or on the streets? For some, there’s another workaround — a voucher that will both substitute for the usual residency proofs and cover the photo ID fee. An even more complex process — and virtually impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t know the system.
Basically, DHS makes vouchers available to pre-approved social service providers that are willing to accept mail on an applicant’s behalf.
There are roughly 40 of these providers. Most will issue vouchers only to homeless people who are clients, residents in their shelters or members of a target group the provider exists to serve, e.g., people who identify as LGBT.
Providers can get only a limited number of vouchers at any given time. They don’t always have enough to meet demand. This, in fact, is what the formerly homeless men griped about — understandably, since trips to any of the sources, except the pre-approved shelters are a costly crap shoot.
It’s also the case, I’m told, that staff at those shelters don’t always know they can issue vouchers — or understand the process. So homeless individuals who’ve heard of the vouchers have been told they can’t get one.
In short, accommodations for homeless people, but probably unknown to those who don’t have a relationship with a well-informed caseworker or the equivalent — and one who’s got the time and concern to help them navigate.
Now, a voucher doesn’t clear the way to a photo ID. Homeless people still have to produce a proof of identity — in most cases, a birth certificate — and proof of a valid Social Security number.
Both, as I earlier wrote, may not be ready to hand for someone who’s homeless. Nor for some of the rest of us. But the costs and wait times for us are probably more annoying than truly problematic — unless, of course, we want to fly someplace in the near future.
Nothing anyone can do about the wait times, it seems. But low-income residents may get help with the costs of a birth certificate. Two local nonprofits offer such financial assistance, though not for the swifter online process.
One source says it can help only the first 15 people who show up in the morning. The other will help the first 36 on Fridays and alternate Saturdays, but only those who’ve got appointments made by a social service provider.
So we’re back to the relationship issue. Homeless and other low-income people who’ve got no such relationship will obviously have to take their chances — perhaps many times.
On a more positive note, the District will waive the documentation requirements and the fee for returning citizens who can get an official letter from the Department of Corrections or either of two agencies responsible for supervising ex-offenders.
Might there be some equally streamlined — and readily discoverable — workaround for residents who haven’t recently spent time behind bars? Shouldn’t the District, at the very least, explore the options?
Shouldn’t nonprofits reconsider their own photo ID requirements?