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State Senate to Vote on Bill to Provide Homeless With Free IDs

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For many homeless people, the fees associated with proper identification are a cost-prohibitive barrier blocking access to the services they need.
For many homeless people, the fees associated with proper identification are a cost-prohibitive barrier blocking access to the services they need.  | Photo: Ryan Vaarsi/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A California legislative committee unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would make it easier for homeless people to receive certified copies of their birth records and state identification cards that are required for accessing certain social services.

Authored by Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva, Toni Atkins, and Brian Maienschein, AB 1733 would allow a homeless person to submit an affidavit of homelessness and financial need with an application for vital records, such as a birth certificate, or a state-issued photo ID.

The bill, Quirk-Silva told KCET, was inspired by the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia who lived on the streets in Fullerton, where she was once mayor. Thomas was beaten by three officers in the Fullerton Police Department in July 2011.

The attack was recorded by parking lot security cameras, and surveillance footage showed the officers clubbing and tasing the man -- the video sparked national outrage.

"The entire scenario involving not only homeless and mental health, but also police changed the city quite a bit," Quirk-Silva said. "We just can't ignore growing number of homeless people on our streets."

California ID cards currently cost $28; those who meet income requirements may be eligible for a reduced fee of $8. The bill's authors hope that by waiving these fees, they can reduce the time that homeless people rely on emergency services while improving the efficiency of government and non-profit advocates working to help homeless communities.

Nearly every state and federal program providing social services requires an applicant establish eligibility by producing proof of identity or proof of residence. The most common documents required are a certified birth record and a valid, government-issued photo identification card, Quirk-Silva said.

While the proposed legislation has seen no real opposition, the list of supporters runs deep and includes the likes of Housing California, the Western Center on Law & Poverty, and the Skid Row Housing Trust. The bill now moves to the full State Senate for a vote, following Tuesday's Transportation and Housing Committee meeting.

"We are making sure they have IDs to access the services to get back on feet -- either social services or mental health services," Quirk-Silva said. "People do see a need. This is a simple step. Let's just get these IDs in their hands."

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