Linda Stamm--Identification Collaborative
It is such a routine and easy undertaking that most of us take for granted. It is something that we do every couple of years, and besides the long lines it is usually just an inconvenience to renew your driver's license. For a homeless person obtaining identification is difficult, and in a post 9/11 world it is often impossible. In Ohio, you cannot even exercise your fundamental right as a citizen to vote in person without identification. It all starts with the birth certificate as the primary document to get all the other pieces of identification. There are a hundred different ways to get a birth certificate, but some states make it impossible to order a birth certificate by mail. There is the thorny issue of what address to use if you have no fixed residence. In Cleveland, to get a birth certificate you have to go to City Hall, but that requires showing identification to get into the office of vital statistics to get the birth certificate. To prove who you were actually born, you have to enter this Monty Python type routine with the security guard at City Hall asking to see your identification; you respond that you are there to get identification, and there is this stand off at the front door.
Anyway, identification can cost between $15 and $120, but in many cases it is the ticket to housing or a job or treatment or release from parole. It is often the last thing that people secure when they first become homeless, and it is one of the first items stolen. For those born on a military base or in New York City or Indiana or Puerto Rico, it takes a very long time and it is a very difficult process to order your birth certificate by mail. This all has to do with stepped up security after the attacks on September 11, and local and state budget shortfalls that resulted in large scale increases in fees. In Cleveland, we developed a unique partnership with many of the homeless social service providers. Linda Stamm of the West Side Catholic Center has been a vital part of this for the last few years, and is moving on in the next few weeks.
NEOCH assigned a VISTA to this project about five years ago, and he was able to coordinate this service for the year he was here. Then West Side Catholic took over the project, and the Plain Dealer did a feature on the problems that homeless people had with identification. They showed how other cities had funded identification programs, and Cleveland was behind in providing this opportunity. We also have to give credit to Eileen from St. Colman's for getting everyone together in the beginning and pushing this forward. St. Colman's was the original fiscal agent for the project. The big step forward that Jerry Skoch provided at West Side Catholic was to not only fund a program that provides resources to those without identification to purchase a birth certificate or state id or both, but also providing a staff position to do advocacy around obtaining ID. Often the importance of advocacy in setting up these programs is forgotten. There are huge issues that Linda was able to help us work through. She raised flags to the community when the state was raising the price of identification. She tried to convince the state that they should help with the cost of obtaining identification for very low income people as other states do. Linda helped us with the voting lawsuit that we filed to allow the votes of homeless people to count when they voted and did not have ID. She helped with negotiations over the loss of licenses because of debt issues, the specific rules for people coming out of incarceration and obtaining id, and clarifying residency rules at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
This has been an excellent collaboration, and is the envy of other cities in Ohio. Just having a notebook on the rules for all 50 states for how to obtain a birth certificate is a wonderful resource. Linda put this together and updates it regularly. We have to applaud West Side Catholic for their willingness to assign staff/volunteers to this important collaboration. We have to thank the local foundations and City of Cleveland for funding this collaboration over the last few years. And we owe a debt of gratitude to Linda Stamm for organizing all of this. Good luck.
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