Report highlights barriers for people experiencing homelessness to access ID

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On any given night last year, more than 650,000 people in the U.S. experienced homelessness, according to government data.

People trying to break that cycle are often faced with roadblocks because they lack a government-issued ID card.

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Now a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is shedding light on these barriers and points to resources to help.

People experiencing homelessness often need an ID to get stable housing, financial assistance, or a job.

But the report says they often don’t have a safe place to store important documents that may be required to get an ID.

That can lead to lost or stolen records that are difficult for people without stable housing to replace.

“You need an ID to get an ID so there’s a catch 22, or there’s a cost to replacing an ID and you don’t have the money, or it requires accessing technology you don’t have access to,” said Alicia Puente Cackley, a Director in GAO’s Financial Markets and Community Investment team. “Once it’s gone, it’s very hard to replace.”

The report highlights local and federal resources to help.

That includes programs to help unhoused teens get copies of their Social Security cards and birth certificates.

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It also says some programs work with Departments of Motor Vehicles to make appointments specifically to help people experiencing homelessness in need of an ID.

We spoke with Steve Berg, Chief Policy Officer for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, who said public awareness is key.

“One of the things a program like this has to do is they have to do outreach,” said Berg. “They have to go to where the homeless people are.”

Berg explains people of all ages and different backgrounds experience homelessness in the U.S.

“It affects all kinds of people,” said Berg. “People with disabilities. That’s a very common thing. The racial disparities are very pronounced… Older people are a very fast-growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness.”

Berg said many people experiencing homelessness are also working.

“They’re working eight hours a day and they come home to a homeless shelter or to a tent somewhere because the jobs don’t pay enough to be able to afford housing,” said Berg. “That’s been a problem for a long time, but it’s particularly severe right now.”

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