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Pilot Program Launched to Provide IDs to Homeless in Manchester

Published Wednesday Apr 24, 2024

Author Carol Robidoux, Manchester Ink Link

Pilot Program Launched to Provide IDs to Homeless in Manchester


From left, Tom Blonski, President and CEO of Catholic Charities, Mayor Ruais, shelter manager Jake King, Members First Board member David Mara and Courtney Fifield, President and CEO of Members First Credit Union.

MANCHESTER, NH – The mayor’s office on April 18 announced a collaboration with Members First Credit Union and Catholic Charities NH to launch a pilot program for those experiencing homelessness and utilizing services at the Engagement Center.

Through a $1,000 donation from Members First, and with Catholic Charities as fiscal agent, those who don’t have an ID will be able to tap into funds identified for this purpose.

In a press release issued by Thursday, Mayor Ruais said the contribution from Members First Credit Union will “support a new program at the engagement center to support those seeking identification, a crucial step in aiding those experiencing homelessness to reclaim their independence and stability.”

On Thursday Ruais said it was in conversation with shelter manager Jake King that he learned the biggest barrier to people getting the necessary ID and supporting paperwork is financial resources.

“That’s when I reached out to Members First and Catholic Charities. If money is the biggest barrier then we have to be engaging with our community partners who want to help. It’s one of the biggest assets the city has,” Ruais said. “We have hundreds of partners who want to make it work. It’s a blessing for the city and a blessing for those who face these barriers.”

Ruais acknowledged that securing an ID is just one of those barriers and hurdles  – and while perhaps not the most urgent, it is a step forward.

“There are many prohibitive barriers that people who are unhoused are facing every day and if we can make that easier, if we can be the sledgehammer that takes out these barriers, that’s what this program should be recognized for –  and ultimately we want to scale it up. We want to be able to say that for $1,000 we helped x number of people and then scale it up, again, by seeking community partners to get there,” Ruais said.

Evaluation of the pilot will be “an iterative process,” with frequent check-ins to see how much has been spent so far and what kind of progress is being made.

He said the program is not designed to be punitive, as in if someone does not have ID they would be denied shelter or access to the engagement center.

“There is no silver bullet so we have to take a multi-faceted approach to what would seem to be an easy fix. We have to take that first step if it’s a license or ID or treatment, or getting someone signed up for Medicare – having an ID is an important first step to knocking down those barriers to a self-sustaining life,” Ruais said.

Streamlining a tedious process

Shelter manager Jake King said the money will help to streamline the process that, in the past, has become entrenched in paperwork and tedious steps.

“We will now be able to help someone by paying up front and then getting reimbursed through this funding,” King said on Thursday of the pilot.

“We have a pool of money we can use for certain needs, and if a replacement ID is one of those needs, the steps to getting the funding has in the past been one of the longest steps. Now, if someone says they were born in Wyoming we can call Wyoming and pay to have them ship a replacement birth certificate to 39 Beech Street.”

Eliminating the cost barrier is important, and King said his staff is fully prepared to track outcomes. However, he also does not want to see a program like this be used to create new barriers to a population that is already struggling for survival.

“If my staff has to contact 14 agencies, that’s where the time and manpower comes in and we’re going to do that,” he said.

He notes that obtaining identification for those coming into the engagement center or shelter without it is not always the top priority for that person – they could need medication, medical treatment, or food and clothing.

“What we were doing – and will continue to do – is enter all of this information into the HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) – including whether someone had a valid ID. So say someone came in and applied for an ID and then they didn’t come back, but their ID arrives here we can notate that in the system, that John’s ID is at 39 Beech St. in Manchester, New Hampshire. And if John should show up in California, and someone goes to enter him in the HMIS they will see that his ID is waiting for him in New Hampshire,” King said.

Replacement documents: A daunting pursuit

The HMIS, operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has established a standardized method of data collection that, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, allows for organizations receiving HUD money, including the city’s engagement center, to enter information about individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Depending on where someone was born or where they last had a valid driver’s license will add steps to the process. For example, if someone was born in Wyoming and needed a copy of their birth certificate, according to Wyoming Department of Health, they would need to include a copy of a valid state-issued ID in order to get a certified copy of their birth certificate before getting a copy of their license – if it’s not already expired.

There are other hurdles – in New Hampshire you can order a replacement copy of your valid driver’s license online for $10, but you can only do so using a credit card or debit card issued in your name. Otherwise, you need to go in person with cash or check. If your previous license is expired then you have to process the request as a renewal, which is $50 – or $60 if you want a Real ID.

If your license was suspended for an unpaid fine or other reason, you need to pay what you owe or mitigate the reason for suspension prior to applying for a new one.

According to a customer service representative at the NH Department of Motor Vehicles contacted Thursday, if you are living in a shelter situation, you need a signed letter of verification from wherever you are staying, along with your birth certificate or passport, and a hard copy of your Social Security card. All names must match on all documents and they need to be original certified copies, not photocopies or laminated. Same with a non-driver’s ID. The cost is $10 but you also need to have hard copies of a birth certificate or passport, a Social Security card and proof of residency.

Similarly, to get a copy of your Social Security card – which is free – you need either a valid driver’s license or passport, a photo ID from a health insurance policy or Medicare, or a U.S. Military photo ID.

Ruais says he understands the daunting reality of these hurdles – which is why he’s determined to break down the barriers, one by one.

“In our city, homelessness is not merely a statistic; it’s a tragic reality faced by too many. The purpose of a shelter should be to break the cycle the individual is currently in, while helping to transition them into a sustainable life. Self-sufficiency should be the goal, and access to identification is essential. It can serve as a gateway to employment, housing, and vital social services,”  Ruais said.

“If someone’s inability to have ID is in the way of their getting the help they need – or employment or SUD or mental health – if an ID is a barrier, that’s why I made the call to Members First and Catholic Charities. We need more collaboration and communication. This pilot is the fruition of that approach that can start the ball rolling and it builds off of what we did with housing earlier this week,” Ruais said, a reference to the release of several surplus city-owned parcels for sale, with profits directed to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“That took three-and-a half-months to get to, and it’s one of many critical components toward affordable housing,  but this week we’ve taken two important steps to get at some of those underlying causes of homelessness,” Ruais said.

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