Americas homeless are being denied many basic food and shelter benefits due to heightened identification restrictions in the wake of post-September 11 policy, this according to a survey released this week by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP).
These disturbing trends are the result of a number of states responding to the September 11 terrorist attacks by proposing laws that make it tougher to acquire a state-issued drivers license or identification card, such as those requiring applicants for an ID to prove residence. Photo identification problems are particularly acute for persons facing homelessness who, by definition, cannot prove residence or lack the documentation needed to obtain an ID.
When states create unreasonable barriers to acquiring identification, they only exacerbate and prolong homelessness, said Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP Executive Director. Its critical that states develop a process of issuing IDs that prioritizes security and integrity without being so needlessly burdensome or unreasonable that it is impossible to obtain one.
Without a photo ID, homeless persons often find that they cannot successfully break out of the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Sara Simon Tompkins, the NLCHP staff attorney who supervised the project, reported that After 9/11, states made it impossible for many homeless persons to get the photo IDs they need to obtain employment or access the fundamental services that will move them out of poverty. Some applicants for SSI benefits cannot even enter certain federal buildings if they do not have a photo ID. They cannot even get through the door to apply.
After September 11, at least 43 states considered some form of legislation or rule change to restrict access to drivers licenses. In 2003, approximately 117 state bills were considered that similarly intended to restrict access
In response to these and other reports that NLCHP received about photo identification problems in the wake of September 11, the organization issued a survey to service providers across the country, focusing on three primary areas: barriers to accessing services and benefits, problems with law enforcement, and lack of adequate funds to pay for identification. NLCHP surveyed 56 service providers in fifteen states that serve a total of 25,647 clients per year. The providers surveyed range from homeless shelters and food pantries to transitional living facilities.
NLCHP targeted sixteen states for the survey: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
The survey found that large percentages of clients are being denied basic benefits because they lack photo identification. The following percentages were of those clients denied services and benefits due to lack of photo identification in a months time: SSI, 51.1%; TANF, 30.6%; Food Stamps, 53.1%; housing or shelter services, 54.1%; and medical services, 45.1%.
These are the benefits and services often most critical to families and children living in poverty, said Foscarinis. The program simply isnt performing when over half of all potential clients are being turned away even before they complete an application.
The Food Stamp Program alone serves millions of families as a basic nutritional safety net when they become so poor that they cannot afford adequate nutrition. The survey also noted that children are the primary recipients of food stamps, receiving approximately 79% of all food stamp benefits.
The survey further found that significant numbers of homeless individuals living in public spaces suffered harassment or arrest for failing to produce proper identification.
Based on these trends, NLCHP issued the following recommendations to reduce photo identification barriers at the federal and state levels.
· Federal agencies should ensure that their state and local offices are not requiring IDs unlawfully.
· The Interagency Council on Homelessness should work to remove photo identification barriers for homeless persons.
· National drivers license legislation should include protections for homeless persons.
· States should allow for alternatives to the residency requirement.
· States should accept alternative documentation.
· States should waive the fees for people who are homeless.
· States should use logical verification when appropriate, the same way that credit card companies may ask for your mothers maiden name.
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty was established in June 1989, two years after Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the first comprehensive federal legislation addressing the problems of homelessness. NLCHPs Executive Director, Maria Foscarinis, played a major role in the Acts passage. NLCHP is governed by a twelve-member board of directors that includes lawyers, activists, researchers, and homeless and formerly homeless people.
NLCHPs mission is to prevent and end homelessness by serving as the legal arm of the nationwide movement to end homelessness. To achieve its mission, NLCHP pursues three main strategies: impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education. ---