U.S. states should improve access to identification cards for homeless youth, particularly those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), argues a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive national think tank.
Homeless youth, who are disproportionately LGBT, can face roadblocks to obtaining state-issued identification, which is necessary to access various programs and services, including those that could help them gain housing and employment, the report says.
CAP's research showed that many states fall short in terms of ID card accessibility for homeless youth.
In just 10 states and the District of Columbia, homeless youth can qualify for free or reduced-price ID cards, which cost an average of $17 nationwide. CAP also found that 24 states require parental consent for a minor to obtain government-issued identification.
Additionally, 12 states have "no apparent protocols for assisting homeless ID card applicants," and at least 15 states require transgender individuals seeking updated gender markers on their ID cards to provide "proof of sex reassignment surgery, a court order, and/or an amended birth certificate," the report says.
"States have put up serious barriers to homeless youth obtaining ID cards, and LGBT homeless youth face even greater challenges," Laura Durso, director of CAP's LGBT Research and Communications Project, said in a statement. "Only 22 percent of states offer free or reduced-cost IDs to the homeless, and nearly half require parental consent before issuing IDs to those underage."
"For the many LGBT homeless youth who leave home because they are not accepted by their families, this makes obtaining IDs particularly difficult," she added. "Transgender individuals often have to provide proof of surgery or an amended birth certificate to receive an ID. All this only raises the bar even higher for LGBT homeless youth to obtain the required ID to secure the employment, care or shelter they so desperately need."
Jacob Meister with the Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois LGBT advocacy group, said barriers to obtaining government-issued IDs are a "significant problem" impacting homeless youth across the nation.
"Homeless people, and homeless youth in particular, already have enough hurdles in dealing with daily life," he told Progress Illinois. "It's just one more hurdle for them when they don't have ID."
"In the modern world," Meister added, "you need an ID for just about everything you do, whether it's gaining access to public buildings when you go through security, whether it's trying to cash a check or opening a bank account, or registering to vote, or going to see the doctor."
Illinois is doing relatively well on the ID accessibility issue, the report showed.
In Illinois, homeless individuals can qualify for a free state ID card under a law that took effect in 2010. Parental consent is not needed in Illinois for a minor to obtain an ID, and proof of transition-related surgery, a court order or an amended birth certificate is not needed to change gender markers on a state ID.
"In general, Illinois is doing a good job when it comes to providing IDs for [the] homeless and homeless youth," Meister said.
He spoke to the importance of not requiring parental consent for minors seeking a state ID.
"What happens frequently is that LGBT youth come out and they're kicked out of their homes, and they become homeless because their families have kicked them out," Meister explained. "Getting parental consent in many instances is impossible, so it's very important that Illinois has a provision that allows youth to go in and get an ID without having to obtain any parental consent."
Michael Ziri, director of public policy at the LGBT rights advocacy organization Equality Illinois, also applauded Illinois for its ID policies. However, he said it would be helpful if the state increased educational outreach about its no-fee ID program for homeless individuals.
"It's great that (the) program exists," he said. "We just need to look at that and make sure the information is getting to where it needs to go."
The report recommended that states update their policies and practices to provide greater ID accessibility to homeless youth as well as young people in foster care and the juvenile and criminal justice systems. It also called for greater partnerships between state ID agencies and non-profit groups serving LGBT homeless youth and the creation of municipal ID programs at the city level.
Cities "can act independently of state and federal requirements" by establishing municipal ID programs, which "benefit homeless youth, LGBT individuals, and a wide range of other communities that have low rates of ID card ownership," according to the report.
A municipal ID program is under consideration in Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has convened a task force to develop an implementation plan for such a program, under which all Chicago residents regardless of immigration status, living situation or gender identification would get a city-issued ID card connecting them to city services, programs and benefits.
Though Illinois is ahead of many states on ID accessibility for homeless youth, Meister said the state has room to improve on another matter involving government-issued identity documentation. In Illinois, transgender people have to provide proof of sex reassignment surgery to obtain a new birth certificate that matches their lived gender. Meister said that policy should be revised, as sex reassignment surgery in general is not always medically possible and is often cost-prohibitive for transgender individuals.
Meister also called for the state to step up efforts around addressing homelessness among youth.
"Right now," he said, "it's really easy for homeless youth, particularly LGBT [youth], to fall through the cracks and really have no place to go, which is causing them to be homeless in the first place."
Ziri said the state should increase, not cut, funds for homeless services, which are currently caught up in the state's three-month-old budget stalemate.
"This budget impasse is really hurting the people in the homeless community," Ziri stressed.