Homeless struggle to obtain IDs, Social Security cards in Florida

By Emily Topper | gargoyle@flagler.edu

News G logoThe homeless population of St. Augustine goes without a lot: shelter, adequate clothing, and money.

But often forgotten is the problem that they have with obtaining IDs in the state of Florida. Without proper documentation or a permanent address, this issue becomes even more challenging. On King Street, just outside the heart of downtown, Community Resource Officer Mark Samson expanded on this problem.

“It’s a battle both ways,” Samson stated. “In order to get a Social Security card, they need to have some type of ID card. But in order to get that, they must have the Social Security card.”

“We have meetings every month with the homeless population. And when we do that, we try to come up with solutions. One of the solutions that we’ve come up with so far, is that when they leave jail, they are given a piece of paper with their picture on it and their name to see if that can get them an ID card.”

So far, this process has not worked—there are many federal government issues that cannot be overlooked.

“It’s typical government red tape,” Samson said. “We have to find a way to mesh both the state regulations and government regulations or we will continue to have this problem. But it’s not a problem for them [the government]. It doesn’t concern them because they don’t have to deal with it or interact with it.”

The Florida DMV website states that in order to gain an ID card, residents must provide primary identification such as a birth certificate, proof of Social Security number and two proofs of residency.

This process sounds simple enough, if you have the documentation. But for Florida residents like Vincent Youngberg, this process is nearly impossible.

Currently residing at the St. Francis House on Washington Street, Youngberg, 47, is struggling to obtain the proper documentation to get his ID reinstated.

“I had my license suspended in November of last year,” Youngberg said. “To get it back, I need two other forms of ID, a Social Security card, and some kind of bill or rental agreement.”

Youngberg’s license was suspended after a ticket in the state of Georgia went unpaid and his tags expired. At the time, Youngberg was in jail, so his car was impounded.

“Soon after I got out of jail, I went to try to get my car back.”

But the car, which had Youngberg’s birth certificate in it, had been sold to pay for the towing fees.

Youngberg began the process of trying to obtain a new ID and documentation this past August. A New York native, Youngberg must contact his home state and pay a fee in order to regain a copy of his birth certificate. Thus far, this process has not been easy.

“It can be a little tough. Once they pull that license, it can be tight.”

Youngberg received some form of identification from his time in prison. After he was released, he was given a photo ID with his booking information. Although law enforcement officers acknowledge this as a real ID, it is not helpful in other circumstances.

“It never expires,” Youngberg explained. “But no one except law enforcement accepts it. I can’t use it to cash checks, I can’t use it to book a hotel.”

Samson and the rest of the St. Augustine Police department continue to encourage the homeless to hold on to the prison IDs that they are given when released.

“It’s not what the state of Florida requires, or the federal government,” Samson stated. “But until we can work through a process, it’s better than nothing.”

Now, Youngberg is just trying to get back on his feet.

“I still have some fines to pay off. Once that is done and I can earn some steady income, New York will send me the copy of my birth certificate.”

Naturally, the stress of the situation has started to come down on Youngberg.

“I don’t understand it. I was fingerprinted when I was released from prison. Why can’t they use those fingerprints? Why can’t they just give me a photo ID? Even if it was a temporary one for 90 days, just so I could get something.”

David Hoak, director of Home Again St. Johns, is well acquainted with the struggles that the homeless must face when trying to obtain a valid form of identification.

“The ID situation is an issue, but I don’t think we’re going to have it solved anytime soon. We continue to work and brainstorm on how we can make it better. It’s a start.”

In the past, the homeless have had trouble gaining IDs and Social Security cards due to their lack of a permanent address.

“If there is no physical address to put on the card, many of them use the St. Francis House address of 70 Washington Street,” stated Hoak. “One challenge is trying to understand the perspective of the homeless. We need to understand where their head is in this situation. At some point, most of them lived in a home and somehow lost that place to live. Lost their home, and then lived in their car before losing their car. Then they end up out on the streets, and their world view is getting smaller and smaller.”

Although case managers are often put in charge of this daunting task, they cannot see to everyone.

“Case managers are not paid, and they can only help so many people,” Hoak explained. “When cases start to get overloaded, you help as many people as you can and call it a successful day.”

At the St. Francis House, Beth Kuhn agreed with this statement. Kuhn, now a case worker, began as a volunteer at the St. Francis House in 2010. Since then, she has struggled to help residents obtain documentation, often writing letters and sending out her own ID information as a voucher.

“We’ve finally found a loophole,” Kuhn stated. “If [the homeless] were treated at Flagler Hospital, they can ask for a facesheet from the records office there. This sheet is accepted at the Social Security office, and they will give you a print out. The print out is not a real Social Security card, but it is valid enough to get a real state ID. Once you have that, you can go back and get a real Social Security card.”

Though not an easy process, it’s one of the only options that the homeless have.

“Realistically, most homeless people try to stay low profile,” Hoak explained. “They’re trying to figure out where they can sleep next, eat next. They’re just trying to get by.”

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