By Joel Hall
There is not much anyone can do without some form of identification.
The transient lifestyles of the homeless and indigent often result in many existing without such things as a driver's license, state identification, birth certificate, marriage license, or divorce papers.
Once lost, these documents can be difficult to replace, and without them, landing a job, voting, applying for welfare benefits, or registering children for school can become virtually impossible.
One non-profit agency in Clayton County is addressing the problem by not only helping indigents obtain identification documents, but by giving them an address at which to receive mail.
Clayton Family Care, located inside the Clayton County Community Services Authority building at 1000 Main St., in Forest Park, began an identification program last week.
Since last Tuesday, CCCSA has helped several people begin the process of obtaining identification, and put others on a waiting list to receive help after the Thanksgiving holiday.
David Enniss, executive director of Clayton Family Care, said the program is off to a slow, but promising start. On its first day of operation, it helped two families with a combination of 10 children apply for 10 birth certificates, which will eventually enable the children to receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits.
"The cost per [birth certificate] is $13.50," said Enniss. "The cost-benefit ratio is huge, because for that $135, the potential for change in those people's lives will be enormous.
"Right now, we are absorbing the cost for this new program, because we need to be able to prove to potential funding sources that there is a need for the program," Enniss continued. "We don't know what the impact of the program will be, but we know it will be far-reaching. The list is really endless of what people are able to do with these documents."
Tiffany Benson, a case worker with Clayton Family Care, said not having identification is often a huge hurdle for homeless people seeking shelter, benefits, or employment. She said the problem is exacerbated by the fact that homeless people are often the targets of muggings and thefts.
"If you're homeless and you don't have any place to stay, there is no stability there," said Benson. "Some jobs require that they have [identification] in order to have employment. They also need it to receive food stamps, Medicaid, and any form of legal mail.
"[Having identification] gives them access to doors that may be closed to them," said Benson.
In addition to helping indigent people obtain vital identification documents, the program addresses the additional necessity of having a legal street address. Benson said people without addresses cannot access many of the assistance programs in this country.
"Someone sleeping on a bench can't receive aid, even though they are entitled to it. This allows them to get Medicaid and get to the doctor, which is very important," said Benson.
Renee Johnson, a staff development coordinator with the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), said one of the major challenges in giving aid to Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005 was dealing with people without identification.
"When a lot of Katrina people came here, they had to wait for their different documents," said Johnson. "We have a six-month waiver period [for people without identification]. After that waiver period, you can lose your benefits for yourself and your children."
Johnson believes the program has the potential to eliminate aid barriers and help "Clayton County get back to where it needs to be.
"It used to not be a big deal [to not have identification], but now, it is mandatory that we have those documents in the case file," said Johnson. "This is going to help a lot of people get the things they really need."
The program currently has an all-volunteer staff and is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m., to 12 p.m. For more information, call (404) 366-5508, or visit www.claytonfamilycare.org.