How often do you use your driver's license or state ID to prove your identity? Would you be able to get a job, enroll in school, or find a home without one?
Yet, for individuals experiencing homelessness, the process of obtaining identification required to find work, secure stable housing, and access public services is often complex and confusing.
For almost two years, The Night Ministry has been participating with partners from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to ensure that Chicago's new optional municipal ID program is accessible for all Chicago residents who struggle to obtain photo identification. City Clerk Anna Valencia has announced that the program, called CityKey, will launch this spring.
"We have been encouraged by the community-centered process that Clerk Valencia has implemented to develop this ID program and appreciate that she spent an afternoon at The Night Ministry discussing the program with young adults experiencing homelessness and our staff," said Tedd Peso, Manager of Advocacy and Community Affairs at The Night Ministry.
"Young people often arrive at our programs without the paperwork they need to obtain a state ID and, often, it takes time to gather that official paperwork—time which they could instead be using to look for and start employment or pursue other goals," said Peso.
Youth leaders from The Night Ministry's Youth 4 Truth advocacy group told Valencia about the challenges of not having an ID. For example, they cannot access food pantries because they didn't have an ID, and the ID's they might have, like ones issued by a school, have expired. Others shared concerns about being stigmatized if they had to list a shelter address on their ID or not feeling safe revealing their address.
The CityKey regulations announced by Valencia do address many of the issues individuals experiencing homelessness face when trying to obtain government-issued identification. For example, a very broad list of documents can be used in order to prove identity and residency, including an expired photo ID from a school. In addition, individuals who are living in a shelter program can opt to not have an address listed on the ID. Applicants can also self-select their gender, choose a non-binary option, or elect to have a gender marker left off.
"We plan to continue the discussion with her office as the CityKey program rolls out, to make sure that this is a program that helps homeless individuals access identification and begin to take the first steps toward independence," said Peso.