“I don’t think about my vital documents super often. I’ve had a passport since I was 12 – that’s my privilege.” Gabby and I are sitting with a member – let’s call them Dee to preserve their privacy – in the waiting room of the Social Security Administration. Gabby, our Member Specialist and Advocate, is here to assist Dee in obtaining a Social Security card and I’m here to shadow them.
Gabby’s comment gets me thinking: for all the vital documents we own, we barely think about how often we use them. Birth certificates, Social Security cards, Driver’s Licenses, ID’s… Oftentimes, they sit unused in our wallets or in a closet until we need them for something or other. And yet for a youth experiencing homelessness, the lack of these documents can be a monumental barrier to accessing resources such as employment, housing, or even the acquisition of other vital documents.
Dee doesn’t have an ID, but they have medical records, which is enough documentation to get a social security card. For Dee, this is the first step in getting a job. In the United States, employment laws and processes make it virtually impossible to obtain employment without the proper identification documents. Furthermore, many subsidized housing programs require you to have proof of income to apply. Essentially, you need vital documents to get a job. You need to get a job to find stable housing.
The process can be overwhelming. Consider that many of us don’t often have to go get our birth certificates or social security cards; these documents were obtained for us by our legal guardians and eventually given to us. For youth in unsafe or unstable housing, contact with parents or guardians can be difficult, dangerous, or impossible. Furthermore, the processes towards obtaining these documents on one’s own can be difficult, complicated and frustrating, enough to deter youth from getting started. These barriers are major contributing factors to perpetuating the cycle of homelessness.
At HQ, we strive to provide Rest, but also the Resources which will allow our youth to achieve Readiness. In their report Proving I Exist, Kolb and Pokemper state: “Setting the expectation that youth become “connected” through employment […] and securing housing is unrealistic if we do not have a system that ensures that they have their vital documents.” We strive to fill these gaps by providing our members with assistance and support in obtaining vital documents. In 2018, we’ve connected with 229youth around this. Additionally, our Back 2 Basics program will encourage even more youth to obtain these documents and promote their readiness.
Which brings us back to Dee. Their Social Security card comes free of cost; “I didn’t know it was gonna be free!” says Dee. I didn’t know that either. Not all vital documents are free, however; Kolb and Pokemper point out that many vital documents have “costs that young people can’t afford,” and no “avenues for a fee waiver” are allowed. Eliminating barriers is important to our mission; when needed, we cover the cost of obtaining vital documents for youth, allowing them to focus on reaching their goals without the added anxiety that roadblocks like cost and complex processes can cause.
On our way back, Dee opens up a little. The conversation turns towards their goals, their desire to obtain a job, find stable housing, and then… They open up about some of their dreams and aspirations. They hope to go to college and pursue a degree. They’ve always wanted to travel. Dee lights up, and reminds me that HQ’s goal is more than just to get youth jobs, more than helping them find a roof to sleep under; we want youth to realize their passions and achieve their dreams. With support and resources, no barrier will stand in their way.