‘What chance do they have?’ Austin mother can’t get ID for son experiencing homelessness


New 'enhanced library cards' help people experiencing homelessness obtain an ID in San Marcos

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a small plastic card that holds a lot of weight. State Identification cards are required for essential parts of life, like applying for a job or housing.

But for people experiencing homelessness, that piece of identity often gets lost.

That’s what happened when Marilyn Good’s son got evicted from his San Francisco home of 22 years.

“He walked out of his apartment with the clothes on his back and an expired passport. That’s all he had,” she said.

Because he needed a current photo ID to get on a plane or public transit, Good arranged for family from out of state to take him off the streets and drive him back home to Austin.

She said her son, in his 50s, fell into substance abuse and to get into the programs he needed, he needed that photo ID. She said that’s the first thing they started working on when he moved back in July.

Good said she was bounced around from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the Social Security office, which recommended going to a doctor for treatment and a verification letter, but they all required the same thing: photo identification.

Good has her son’s birth certificate and notarized papers that show he now lives at home, but those documents haven’t been enough.

“There’s a conundrum here. What do we do?” said Good, who came to KXAN News to help raise awareness and find a solution. “Every individual actually represents a bigger problem.”

She’s right. It’s something Hannah Durrance sees often.

“Especially during the February freeze … we paid for 99 motel rooms, and we had over 300 individuals between three organizations placed in motels,” said Durrance, president of the HOME Center of Central Texas, a nonprofit resource for people experiencing homelessness. “Many of those individuals did not have IDs, and so we had to vouch for those individuals to be able to be able to stay in a motel room.”

On Thursday, the San Marcos Public Library launched a new type of library card, which they said may also serve as ID for things like social services, housing and employment.

Example of San Marcos Public Library Card with photo and personal information (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
Example of San Marcos Public Library Card with photo and personal information (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

The enhanced library cards will include a person’s name, photo and other personal information and can now be made by appointment at the library for San Marcos or Hays County residents who are 18 years old or older.

“This program would allow them to have that photo ID that they need in order to get into a safe space during those crisis situations,” Durrance said.

Community activist organization Mano Amiga also believes the effort will help immigrants and people with a criminal history, but acceptance is not guaranteed.

“It would be up to the organizations and social service agencies or government entities in the community to decide that they are going to accept this as a form of ID or not,” explained San Marcos Public Library Director Diane Insley.

Durrance said her group is already working on getting those approvals, including from Hays County for its Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

“Here’s this local ID, and it has my picture on it, and I’m working to get this other form of identification through the state, and maybe we could go ahead and get services started,” said Durrance.

Durrance said acquiring state ID takes a lot of time, about a three-month wait to get an appointment right now. She also said it costs money, and the requirements are more stringent — all things that can hold up people experiencing homelessness from even beginning to get the help they need.

“Because they can use government records that might include their Social Security rewards letter, along with some other documents, rather than official state documents or federal documents, this is actually going to be an easier process for these individuals,” Durrance said.

  • To view those requirements before booking an appointment, read more here.

Austin Public Library told KXAN News it doesn’t have a similar library card yet but is looking into it.

Until then, Good said she’s back to square one.

She said she’s going to keep trying to connect her son to agencies and is now consulting an attorney. But she knows others don’t have the resources she and her son do.

“Maybe if somebody sees me sitting here in my nice house … saying, I’m trying as hard as I can, and I can’t get it done. So, will you put this burden on somebody who’s got nobody and is living on the street? What chance do they have?”

Marilyn Good (right) said her son can't even get medical care without a photo ID. "I'm very angry with the system that dehumanizes people who don't have housing," she said. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
Marilyn Good (right) said her son can’t even get medical care without a photo ID. “I’m very angry with the system that dehumanizes people who don’t have housing,” she said. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

Working on a digital ID in Austin

The University of Texas’ Dell Medical School and the City of Austin partnered for a pilot project on a similar concept using blockchain technology.

The so-called “My Pass” project used the technology as a “digital wallet” of sorts to catalog ID documents for those without a home who might not have a safe place to store them.

It would make it easier for doctors’ offices, for example, to access social information and medical history for someone living on the streets.

The city said the project showed promise, but they’d need a partner to further develop and support the platform long term. Until that happens, Austin doesn’t have any plans to implement it.

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