How Homeless People Feel About Having Identification

by on March 14, 2011 · 10 comments

in Homelessness, Life Events

Homeless people need identification documentation for the same reasons that housed people need ID:  to prove who they are, to become eligible for services and for their own self-esteem. My previous article, The Trifecta of Identification, set forth the numerous steps that it takes anyone to get ID.  For a person without a home or resources, each step can be a major hurdle to getting identification.

But how do homeless people feel about having or not having ID?  I asked a number of homeless youth and adults this question.  I am grateful to each person for his/her response that follows.

Lily, 27 years old: “I have no ID of any kind because my stuff was stolen.  I had my California ID stolen downtown.

“Without ID, it’s kinda hard.  I couldn’t get a hotel room last night because I had no ID.  Someone else did it.  But, I was bummed.  It wasn’t good.

“I’d like to get an ID, but I don’t have the money.”

T.J., 19 years old: “ID is pretty important.  You need it for most things.

“I have all my ID – birth certificate, social security card and photo ID.  I feel better having ID because I don’t get a ticket for not having ID.  I can buy cigarettes and get a hotel room.”

Wayne M. F. Robbins, Jr., 21 years old:  “Personally, I think ID is a separation of who I am.  Most people don’t ask, ‘Who are you?’  They ask for your ID.

“I feel like a slave.  My parents gave me that name, but if my ID is not current or if it’s broken, you can get in trouble, or fined.  My ID is crinkled at the corners, so I have to buy another one.  How much is an ID?  $35?

“IDs and social security cards aggravate me. I don’t feel that I should be tied down to 9 digits…”

Erin Kuklis, 22 years old: “I have no ID.  I think ID is a waste of time and they have too much info on them.  I’m from Alaska.  I came here in August.

“One of my military cards, driver’s license and social security card – my whole purse with all my IDs is gone.  My ID was stolen.  My bank account was wiped out.  There are three other people pretending to me.  Those people have my parents’ address so they know where my parents live.  There’s way too much info on IDs.

“I can’t get a California ID because I have nothing showing who I am.  When they [DMV] look me up, they don’t believe it’s me…”

Over the past six and a half months, our Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) helped the following homeless individuals complete the steps necessary to obtain ID.  I thank each of them for their comments.

Logan, 49 years old: “No ID means you’re not even ‘Mr. Nobody.’  You can’t get work.  You can’t cash your check.  The police don’t like the idea [that you have no ID].  You have to eat out of the dumpsters.  You have to beg for food.

“A closed mouth don’t get fed.  I asked the manager, ‘If I pick up all the trash in the parking lot, can you throw me something to eat?’  A few times they say, ‘No,’ but at some point they say, ‘Yes.’

“Now [that I have ID,] I feel excellent.  When you [the writer] got me mine… I have options now.  I couldn’t get my medication without ID.

“Having ID makes me feel really good.  If I work, I can cash a check.  If I get stopped by the cops, it’s valid information.”

John, 59 years old: “Before I had ID, I couldn’t do anything.  After I got ID, I could do things…go to stores, all that.”

Nameless, 48 years old: “[Before CJSC got my birth certificate and replaced my social security card and Medi-Cal card,] I only had my California photo ID.  I wasn’t worried about ID then.  I didn’t really think about it until I went to a doctor’s appointment and they needed more ID.

“Now that I’ve got all of my ID, I’m worried about hanging on to it.  Hopefully, I can hang on to it.  That’s my biggest concern.  I’m worried I could lose my ID.”

I look forward to your comments.  Thank you.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Marilyn Steber March 14, 2011 at 9:46 pm

What happens when someone gets injured and loses their ID and their memory? I have seen old dementia and Altzheimer patients running the streets with no idea who they are.
I have my dog chipped in case she gets lost. I can get a tattoo with my SS number, but who would believe it? Why can’t I get myself chipped?
Just saying.


Abby March 15, 2011 at 6:56 am

Great idea, but you’ll enrage the “number of the beast” freaks with talk like that. :-)


Marilyn Steber March 15, 2011 at 8:41 am

That’s scarier than getting lost. 8-)


Christine Schanes February 22, 2012 at 10:01 am

Hi, Marilyn,

Thanks for your comment. Actually, over the years, we’ve gotten calls from loved-ones of homeless people looking for their family members. We’ve done what we can and even found a young retarded person three states away from his worried parents.

It’s a tough call. I’m against numbering people, but having ID on each of us is vital and even legally required in some jurisdictions.

Please stay in touch,


Christine Schanes February 22, 2012 at 9:54 am


Thanks for your comment. Actually, we at the Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) have gotten ID for a homeless man suffering from dementia. It wasn’t easy, but we worked with his social worker and got it done.

Please keep in touch!


Christine Schanes February 22, 2012 at 9:59 am

Hi, Abby,

Thanks for your comment. You’re right. Many of us would be upset about “numbering people.”

However, I’ve seen it happen in the City of Ontario when they used “numbering people” with hospital bracelets with different colors and numbers on them to identify homeless people who were going to be allowed in the City’s new tent area which resembled, truly, a concentration camp even to the over-head massive lights which came on at night.

Please keep in touch,


that guy February 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

well you dont want it in case you are in the witness protection program then the person chasing you might find you just in case


Christine Schanes February 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

Hi, that guy,

Thanks for your comment. I’m smiling. I think you have the right spirit about all of this ID stuff.

We need ID, jurisdictions require ID and yet we make it almost impossible to get ID.

Maybe we can all think of ourselves as being in the witness protection program and end the whole discussion.

Please stay in touch,


brett February 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

this helped me in a reserch on homelessness


Christine Schanes February 22, 2012 at 9:56 am

Hi, brett,

Thanks for your comment. I’m glad this article helped you in your research on homelessness.

Can you share something more about your research – why you’re doing it; for whom; what have you learned?

Thanks for looking into this area.



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