A recently enacted law is said to open doors for unhoused residents by providing free-of-charge identification cards.
The state law was passed as SB 5815 in March 2022 and went into effect on Jan. 1. It allows identification cards to be issued at no cost to residents experiencing homelessness. People receiving public assistance may be eligible for a reduced-free card at $5.
The cards are only available to Washington residents and those who plan to stay in the state. The identification cards are only free the first time a resident gets one.
The bill was sponsored by legislators from across Washington. One of the prime sponsors was 49th District Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.
“When you think about all the many instances that each one of us is required to show ID on a regular basis, I think it’s easy to understand what a barrier a lack of ID can be,” Cleveland said in one of the public hearings in 2019.
A survey conducted in 2006 by the Brennan Center found that the elderly, lower-income populations and marginalized communities are the least likely to have an identification card. State identification is needed to get a job, rent an apartment, or open a bank account.
But for people experiencing homelessness, the stakes can be even higher. Identification is a fundamental staple; without one, they can be denied critical services needed to survive — food stamps, medical care, and sometimes staying in a shelter, according to Homeless Law.
How to get one
Residents experiencing homelessness can visit a licensing office to get an identification card with or without an appointment. If the residents have had a Washington driver’s license before, staff at the licensing office can help them locate their records.
Many people experiencing homelessness may not have documents, like birth certificates. But if the person has never had a Washington-issued ID, they will need a copy showing proof of identity — which can be a complication for some unhoused residents. To receive a replacement birth certificate, residents must spend $25 in Clark County.
Residents also need an address to receive the card.
“They can use a friend’s or relative’s house, or if they are connected with a church or shelter, they can ask (the entity) to use their address. Another option is to use a licensing service office in their area to pick up the ID,” Christine Anthony, communications manager for the Department of Licensing, said to The Columbian.
The Department of Licensing also recommends those attending public schools to speak with a teacher or liaison to help them receive a card.
“There’s just so much you cannot do without an ID card — housing, jobs, medical care. So this law is intended to make it easier for people to live,” Anthony said.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.