Imagine trying to navigate life in the United States without having some kind of identification. Without an ID, it’s near impossible to obtain lawful employment, register your children for school, and apply for housing, health care, or other forms of government assistance. It may seem hard to believe that people who are born in this country wouldn’t have access to a driver’s license or some other state-issued identification to establish their identity. But for many people who are homeless or low-income, it is an unfortunate reality.
As of 2006, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, up to 11 percent of U.S. adults had no government-provided photo ID. Since then, federal requirements for IDs have grown tougher, contributing to a loop that can help keep people trapped in poverty. For poor Americans, IDs are a lifeline — a key to unlocking services and opportunities, from housing to jobs to education. And in states
strict voter ID laws, the lack of an ID can hinder voting. “This is a huge issue for people who are homeless and poor in general,” says Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “Without an ID, basically you don’t exist.”
There are a number of reasons why some folks don’t have photo identification. It can be time-intensive and costly to fight with government agencies to locate copies of birth certificates, social security cards, and duplicate IDs. People may not have access to reliable transportation which would get them to these sites in the first place. Once they get there, they often don’t have the necessary documentation to prove they are who they say.
The Vital Records Department in Washington, DC, for instance, will issue you a birth certificate without proper photo ID if you have a voter registration, employee ID, or census records. But how many of us, even with proper ID, have census records on hand? How many of us don’t have an actual physical voter registration card immediately accessible? What’s more, challenges related to poverty and homelessness make an already difficult task seemingly impossible.