Federal Real ID Act's Affect on the Homeless

The Real ID Act which was passed by Congress in 2005 has reared its ugly head as deadlines for states to comply are fast approaching. While many are concerned that adjoining the databases of all 50 states in a system that is administered by the feds will subject the information of all American adults to the same internet security failures that have plagued the Office of Personnel Management and other federal agencies, states are concerned with the price tag. Since some states are using their right to refuse to comply with the feds, this forces residents of those states out of compliance. This could eventually lead to trouble when attempting to board an airplane. However, citizens whose ID or driver's license is not in compliance with federal standards will likely have the option of presenting a passport.

I fly once or twice a year from DC to Florida to visit my aging mother and other family members. Having never left the country, I've never applied for a passport or visa. No problem; because, DC is in compliance with the Real ID Act. This presents yet another set of problems for me – not the least of which is that I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID. (yes, you read that correctly. It's not a typo either.) I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID.

Before I describe at least two major problems with Washington, DC's Real ID Act compliance, I must say that, on January 17th, 2015 I came extremely close to missing my flight to Florida. It was due to my ID from 2008 having expired in the summer of 2013 – a year and a half earlier. By the time that I finished going through the scanner and put my shoes back on (to the relief of other passengers), it was about a minute before my plane was to leave. The TSA agent noticed that my ID was expired and didn't want to grant me passage. I had the then-girlfriend with me and I was frantic about missing my flight. A TSA supervisor walked over. He asked if everything else matched – my name, my flight, the time etc. The agent said, “Yes”. The supervisor commanded him to let me through. My plane arrived at the terminal 20 minutes after it was supposed t have departed. I boarded and made it to the Sunshine State.

Backtrack to June 2014. DC Government's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) had its then bi-monthly meeting during which dozens of people come together to discuss ending homelessness. (They've been meeting since June 2006. There are even more homeless people than lived in DC 10 years ago. However, meetings are now quarterly. Go figure.) Each ICH meeting is preceded by a pre-meeting during which homeless people and the general public discuss a pre-determined topic that is related to homelessness. (There has been talk of eliminating the pre-meetings. That would be pretty top-down, with the homeless and public only hearing what government officials and ICH appointees like yours truly have to say.) In June 2014 the pre-meeting was about DC's implementation of the Real ID Act as it pertains to the homeless. I arrived about 10 minutes before the pre-meeting concluded and, there, missed a presentation by DALLAS WILLIAMS of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (DHS). People were in Q&A mode when I arrived. Little did I realize then how this information would affect me in 2015, though my issue at the airport was more of an expiration issue than it was a Real ID issue.

I said that I'm not allowed to put my real address on the ID. Here's what I mean. I'm homeless. Though Congress passed the Mckinney-Vento Homeless Services Act in 1987 and Obama signed its reauthorization on May 20th, 2009 (with it now being called the HEARTH Act), the feds were remiss in how they approached the matter of homeless identification. To prove residency, a person can present two bills that they received through snail mail – if they actually use that anymore. Technological advances aside, a homeless person probably doesn't receive the permitted bills by snail/e-mail – like a light bill or phone bill. A homeless person can use certain service providers – soup kitchens and shelters – as their address. However, these service providers must go through a certification process in order to qualify as an address that is recognized by their local DMV. The CCNV Shelter where I currently stay is not certified as a recognized address. Its 750 year-round residents, as their ID's expire, will not be allowed to use 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC as their address on the new ID.

In August 2015, as I sought to renew my ID before a planned flight (which got postponed by three months due to a hurricane), I went to an office of the Downtown BID to inquire as to whether or not they still offer ID assistance. They referred me to a non-profit here in DC called Pathways to Housing. Their main address is 101 Q Street in NE DC. Pathways primarily serves mentally-ill homeless people. However, they also have an outreach office near the MLK Library which serves those who are not determined to be mentally ill. (I suppose it's a not-so-secret way of gauging those who haven't been certified so as to bring them into mental health services in a city where social services are designed to encourage people to present as mentally or physically disabled in order to receive them. I prefer to avoid being stigmatized by those who mistake me as a regular client, when in fact I've only used them to get ID – which is why I was reluctant to accept this service from them.)

I received a voucher for a free ID from Pathways. I obtained proof of residency from the CCNV Shelter. I made sure I had my social security card, birth certificate and old ID. I went to DMV. I was told that they would not honor my proof-of-residency paperwork from CCNV and that I had to use the address of the organization that gave me the voucher (which Pathways had not told me). I asked if that would change if I were to pay out of pocket. I was told I'd need two bills. I was S.O.L. (I'd not yet postponed my flight due to the hurricane and thought I'd end up missing it – though by myself this time.) I ended up having an ID made that had 101 Q St NE DC as my address, though I stay at 425 2nd St NW DC. I then received yet another surprise. DMV no longer gives you the ID right then and there (which Pathways had not told me). They give you a paper copy which is good for 45 days and they mail the ID card to you. (This may soon be the only thing USPS delivers.)

Several weeks later I went to 101 Q St NE to pick up the ID. It had been hand-delivered by a staff member from there to their location near the library. I went to the outreach location the following day. I was handed two pieces of mail. One had the card. The other was an adjusted voter's registration – the other problem. Here in DC we have eight wards which subdivide into ANC's (not African National Congresses, but Advisory Neighborhood Commissions). The wrong address puts me in the wrong voting district for elected positions that are not citywide. I'll need to fix it before April 2016 – DC's new primary month, since 2014.

I guess the only bright spot in all of this is that the homeless who often feel invisible and get ignored by many are now being paid attention to – even if it IS by the feds. (Truth be told, I sometimes wonder if a foreigner with a thick accent might one day say of a homeless person, “Hey look, a bum!” only to have law enforcement misunderstand and call out the bomb squad – the fact that homeless people storing their belongs publicly has already led to bomb scares notwithstanding.)

Over the past three months I've explained this ID matter to several people in DC Government as well as the director of Pathways to Housing. On October 4th, as I told Pathways Director Christy Respress, she listened politely and directed me to walk a few yards across this room in City Hall and speak to ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt whose agency is working on fixing Real ID system flaws that affect the homeless. (I was being sent from pillar to post – or shall I say “from Christy to Kristy”. As I explained it to Kristy, several non-profit and government personnel were sitting nearby. All other conversation ceased as all homed in on my articulation of a problem that is beginning to affect many and which is already on people's radar. I sensed respect for me and concern for the issue I was raising – more than usual.

How quickly things can change!!! Two days later I attended a meeting of homeless advocates and DHS personnel at the MLK Library. DHS Director Laura Zeilinger as well as DALLAS WILLIAMS and another man I don't know were there. Among other things, I described the aforementioned ID fiasco which, as you can see, doesn't implicate DHS at all. Laura had to leave in a rush before the meeting ended. I spoke to DALLAS WILLIAMS 1-on-1 after the meeting. There were at least a couple of other people nearby waiting their turns. However there weren't many witnesses within earshot of DALLAS WILLIAMS and myself.

DALLAS WILLIAMS became very defensive as he spoke sternly and said, “Sheptock, say that's YOUR experience!!! DHS doesn't do that. We help people with ID all the time; but, we don't let them use 64 NY Ave NE DC as their address. Say that's YOUR experience!!!” It was hard to get a word in edgewise or to tell him that, with Pathways being in contract with DHS, it is the job of DHS to know what Pathways to Housing is up to – the very reason I was telling DHS what they should have already known. Following DALLAS WILLIAMS' overly-emotional display, the conversation remained dysfunctional from there on out. Taken together with DALLAS WILLIAMS having shut down a process whereby a DHS employee was assisting an 80-year old homeless woman who'd been sleeping outdoors in the winter and was in dire need of accommodations, he's proven himself to lack genuine concern for the needy.

Additionally, he and I attended a May 27th, 2015 meeting at the DHS office in which he mentioned the planned relocation of two women's shelters from 425 2nd Street (where the building has six separate entities) to DC's Chinatown – a move that was planned to occur before November 1st, 2015 but will occur in the spring of 2016. DALLAS WILLIAMS went to the women's shelters later that same day but never mentioned the move. I would eventually find out the the director who runs both shelters hadn't yet been told about the move. In the meantime, I told the female residents who accused the shelter director of withholding info from them. The director thought the accusation originated with me. I explained that I accused DALLAS WILLIAMS, not her, of withholding info. I told her about the planned move. She contacted DHS. DALLAS WILLIAMS was sent out to the shelters again and talked about the move. However, by this time, it was clear that renovations at the new location were not going to be completed in time. The 200 women total in these shelters were given a January move date and not told by DALLAS WILLIAMS (who should have known) that a winter move is not likely and that, when the pre-November move didn't happen, late-March or early-April 2016 became the new date by default. I've since told them. I could also go into multiple stories of how advocates feel stonewalled by him and sense that he has a general disregard for homeless advocates. Long story short, DALLAS WILLIAMS is on my sh*t list.

I'll visit him soon in order to fix my ID problem.....
..and to ensure that DALLAS WILLIAMS knows who I am.


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