Identity Theft

Posted: May 1, 2008 in Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Self Esteem

Early this morning while I was watching the news I saw a commercial for a credit reporting agency. It had a young man singing a song, lamenting that he was working in a restaurant because he had been a victim of identity theft. Not more than 20 minutes later there was another commercial by a company that promised to protect its customers against identity theft.

It is unfortunate, but one sad realty of living in today’s day and age is identity theft. And, this type of victimization is on the rise.  

In his December 18, 2007 testimony before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security of the Committee on the Judiciary, Joel Winston, of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), stated,

"Identity theft is a serious concern in our information-based economy. Millions of consumers are victimized by this crime every year."

His reference was to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2006 "ID Theft Survey," which found that in 2005, 8.3 million adults had been victims of identity theft.

On the Identity Theft Resource Center website, it states,

"According to the Gartner study the 2006 victim population was at 15 million victims. That means every minute about 28 1/2 people become a new victim of this crime, or a new victim in just over 2 seconds."

That is an increase of 80 percent in just one year.

It’s actually quite a disconcerting thought when you think about: that someone could have their identity stolen. Moreover, anyone can become a victim of identity theft – even the homeless. Although, not quite in the way you think.

Homeless people spend a lot of their time having to "prove" who they are. Whenever they go to any homeless support service agency seeking help or services, they are required to present valid identification.

For example –

In San Luis Obispo, there are two primary agencies that homeless people utilize on a regular basis: the Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter.

Regardless of how long a person has been using either one of these agencies, each time they arrive on property, they are required to "sign in" and show a staff member their ID before they can receive services. It doesn’t matter that the staff member behind the desk already knows who the person is. Nor does it matter that they may have seen the homeless person’s ID hundreds of times before: no ID, no services.

At sign in, each person is asked a series of questions and a check mark is placed in the appropriate boxes next to the homeless person’s name. Then the next person in line is processed the same way. The reason for this is to gather statistical data: how many people ate a meal; how many showered; how many are veterans; where they slept the previous night and so on. These statistics are then collated and used when these agencies go before the local government to request funding.

The problem with these types of statistics is that they can – and often times do – dehumanize the individual person by "packaging" them up in a set of statistical data. It robs them of their individuality; it steals their identity.

What compounds the issue is that the homeless become accustomed to being "processed" everywhere they go for services. Without realizing it, they slowly begin take on a "herd" mind set. In their struggle to survive they lose sight of themselves as individuals. Those who somehow manage to retain their individuality find it difficult to cope with all of the "rules and regulations." As a result, because they "buck the system" they are sometimes viewed as being rebellious or trouble makers.

While I understand the need for rules and regulations, I also recognize the need to help the homeless maintain their "identity." Without a sense of self; a sense of being an individual, a person loses the ability to think for themselves. This in turn breeds complacency and makes it difficult for a person to become self-motivated enough to try and raise their standard of living. In the end, they become a casualty of the very enumeration that was meant to help.

Admittedly, I’ve cited quite a number of statistics over the 14 months that I’ve been writing this blog. But never once have I failed to remember that the numbers represent real people; individual and unique persons, who like me, experience happiness, sadness, laughter and tears.

Having had experienced homelessness myself for approximately 26 months, I know well the struggle to survive. I know the toll it takes on one’s self-esteem. I know what it’s like to be impersonalized.

Even now, with the experience behind me, I can see how I didn’t come through it unscathed. I can perceive within me certain subtle changes; emotional and psychological scars that I will probably carry with me for the rest of my life. And, often times it feels as though a small part of me has been lost.

Several days ago, I received an email from a dear friend of mine.

Although thankfully she has never experienced homelessness herself, through what I’ve shared with her of my experience, and through reading my posts, she has been able to get a glimpse into the many struggles that a homeless person goes through.

In her email she wrote this,

"I have gotten a sense that living homeless is an all consuming life event that requires total focus for survival…and in this survival a part of oneself can be easily be lost or forgotten."


K,

With all my heart, I’m overjoyed that you were able to deduce this through inference and not personal experience.

Thank you for the gift of friendship.

– m –

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