Identity Crisis

Posted: October 15, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Homelessness

If you’re ever involved in some type of accident or injury and you end up getting a bump on the head, once the medical personnel arrive, beside having them shine a light in your eyes, be prepared to have them ask you things like: what’s your name; when were you born; do you know what day of the week it is; and other similar questions.

All of this is to try to get you oriented and discern if you have a concussion or even a case of amnesia where you don’t know who or where you are. And that’s a good thing. After all, no one wants to have an identity crisis.  

People who are homeless suffer their own types of identity crisis.

For those who have chosen homelessness as their preferred lifestyle – well, they’re right where they want to be. But for many who have found themselves homeless due to circumstances that were beyond their control, becoming homeless does play games with your self-esteem, who you are as a person, and even the things that you had faith in at one time or another – like the rest of society.

But perhaps one of the darkest hours comes if or when you happen to lose your wallet or purse and you find that every last piece of identification is gone with it. If that happens, be prepared to do a lot of jumping through hoops because that it was it will take to rebuild.

First there will be a need to get a mailing address. No problem. Here in San Luis Obispo, both the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter and the Prado Day Center will allow you to receive your mail at their address. Just make sure that you don’t break any of the rules, or you could find yourself getting "86ed" for a period of time, during which you will have all of your services "suspended" – including being able to get your mail.

But even with a mailing address, reacquiring your drivers license or state identification (and/or your social security card) is going to be a chore.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles requires that you provide them proof of who you are before they will re-issue your ID. That means getting a copy of your birth certificate – hard to do when you’re homeless and don’t have the money. Even harder to do if you were born in a state other than California, or even in a city outside of SLO county.

One homeless woman that I know had an especially hard time.

She was born in the Midwest and, although she had a valid drivers license from her home state, California DMV wouldn’t honor her out of state drivers license as a valid form of ID. So she sent away for her birth certificate which did arrive in due time. When she returned to DMV they denied her. Why? The last name on her birth certificate didn’t match the last name on her out of state license. The name on her birth certificate had her maiden name, and the one on her license had her married name, which she kept after she and her ex-husband had divorced.

So, she went through the process of having to get a copy of, not only her old marriage license, but of the divorce decree as well. In the meanwhile, she could get employed because she didn’t have a valid California ID.

In all it took her nearly nine months to get everything taken care of.

A Viet Nam Vet, needed a copy of his birth certificate because the California DMV wouldn’t accept either his VA benefits card or his DD-214 (military discharge papers) as valid forms of identifying who he was.

Although he has lived most of his adult life in California, he was born in a small town in Indiana. He managed to get up the funds, bought a money order, filled out all of the appropriate forms and sent the request on it’s way. That was about a year ago.

He was using the Prado Day Center’s address to receive his mail. He’s still waiting for the birth certificate. All of his requests to have what happened to his mail looked into have gone unanswered.

Oh, by the way, if you happen to come into this state from somewhere else, like Mexico, the California DMV will accept your Mexican ID as a way to prove to them who you are – with or without a green card – and process your paperwork. No questions asked.


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