Imagine if you became homeless tomorrow — where would you keep all of your important documents? Wallet, passport, birth certificate, social security card all on your person, at all times. This means there’s a much higher risk of losing all of these items at once and unfortunately, theft is often the cause.

According to the National Law on Homelessness and Poverty, of people experiencing homelessness in a given month who didn’t have an ID: 51% were denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, 53% were denied food stamps, 54% were denied access to shelters or housing services, and 45% were denied access to Medicaid or medical services.

To get an ID card, most states require multiple proofs of identity or permanent residences, such as utility bills, Social Security cards or birth certificates. Some states require proof of homelessness, such as a letter from a social services agency.

And most states charge a fee to get an identification card — not to mention fees of as much as $50 for a copy of a birth certificate. But even with waived fees, getting an ID can be an arduous process entailing multiple visits to a state office.

It’s next to impossible to operate in the modern world without identification, the slim card that acts as a government stamp of confirmation that you are who you say you are. You need ID to open a bank account, get on an airplane, validate your age or walk into some federal buildings, but it’s also necessary to sign up for food assistance or get into housing.

Getting a state-issued ID can be difficult and expensive, requiring a large amount of official documentation that can be easy for un-housed people to lose and hard to replace. Because it’s necessary for programs that make it easier to lift yourself out of poverty, requiring an ID can be a barrier for homeless and low-income people. It’s about to get harder, as federal laws tighten regulations on what is required of state IDs for federal agencies to accept them.

How Can a Homeless Person Get an ID?

The exact process of obtaining a state identification card varies from state to state. To find out how to get an ID in your state, visit your local DMV or visit your state’s DMV website.

If you have your birth certificate, this should be enough to obtain an ID because it is a valid way to prove your identity and obtain an ID. If you don’t have a copy of your birth certificate, you can obtain one from the local Department of Health or the Vital Records office in the state in which you were born.

Other documents you may be able to use to obtain a state-issued ID are:

  • your Social Security card
  • insurance cards
  • school enrollment record
  • arrest record
  • voter registration record
  • Native American tribal ID document
  • some immigration documents, such as a “green card”

To get an ID, you must prove that you’re a resident of your state. In some states, you can use a receipt from a motel or campground to establish your residency and obtain an ID. In most states, letters from homeless shelters attesting to an ID applicant’s local residence are sufficient to establish residency. When you visit your local DMV or speak with a representative online or on the phone, ask which documents are acceptable for establishing residency in your state.

You Can Replace Your Vital Records

Find out how to replace vital documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, and more at USAGov

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