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Helping Michigan's homeless get legal ID's

steve carmody
Michigan Radio
Debra Hayes, executive director of My Brother's Keeper in Flint, holds up a file of a homeless man named 'Robert' who needed help getting a valid ID

About half of Michigan’s homeless do not have one vital tool they need to get off the streets: A valid form of ID.

The head of a Flint homeless advocacy groupsays about half the people who walk through its doors have no form of identification. That makes it difficult for them to receive housing and services.

But this isn’t just a problem in Flint. 

Jason Weller is with the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness.  He says their surveys show this is a statewide problem.

“It wasn’t just limited to Detroit, or Lansing or Grand Rapids….folks in the U.P. were dealing with the issue as well,” says Weller.

Genesee County Clerk John Gleason is working with advocates for the homeless to obtain ID’s they can use to gain access to housing and other services.

“We know what homeless people are,” Gleason told reporters on Friday, “But to resolve that issue we need to know WHO they are.   And you start that with an identification.”

But getting that legal ID can be expensive and time-consuming. 

Advocates say it takes hours to help a homeless person put together the paperwork they need to get a legal ID. 

And in Genesee County, just to file that paperwork, it costs about $25.   Advocates say the cost adds up when you’re filing for hundreds of men and women, who often misplace documents as they move from place to place.    

Genesee County may soon join other Michigan counties that waive or reduce fees for vital records, like birth certificates, for people who are homeless.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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