Missouri has joined 17 other states in imposing legal restrictions on voting by adding a constitutional amendment requiring government-issued photo IDs in order to vote. Voting is a critical right for all citizens, and legal and reasonable access to voting should be a priority. However, the need for an ID goes beyond being able to vote.
Without an ID, you can’t get food assistance, apply for a job or housing, secure health care, enroll your kids in school, visit a sick child in the hospital or even get a library card. Without an ID, people are left vulnerable, unable to prove who they are and cut off from privileges, services and even rights.
Helping someone get an ID is somewhat akin to digging a well for a family in a Third World country. An ID offers access to a deep well of possibilities for self-sufficiency and dignity that everyone should have access to.
At Reconciliation Services, we have seen firsthand the hardship imposed on the poor, the disabled and the elderly in trying to obtain an ID. It may only cost around $25 for an ID, but the cost and the lack of understanding of the process puts that ID just out of reach for so many in our city. It’s not as easy as you think.
A friend’s elderly mother recently faced serious challenges trying to access elder care and housing. She didn’t have a driver’s license, and the family couldn’t find her birth certificate. It took two months and the tenacious advocacy of her adult children to navigate the complex bureaucracy of interstate clerical offices and hospital record archives before she received her birth certificate. Only then was she able to obtain a photo ID and the services she desperately needed.
How do people access and verify their own history and identity if they are born out of state, have mental health issues, face physical disabilities, don’t know their birth parents, are homelessness or moved excessively, lost everything while fleeing abuse or because of theft, or may not even have an address to receive an ID or birth certificate by mail? The challenges to obtain this simple piece of plastic can quickly become overwhelming.
Recently, a man came to Reconciliation Services desperately wanting to work but he didn’t have the ID required to complete a job application. He had been living out of his car, but when his car was stolen so was nearly everything he owned, including his ID. Without his ID, he was trapped.
Having a caring and knowledgeable advocate is essential during the process of securing an ID, and Reconciliation Services has made this a priority since 2005. We evaluate individual needs, work together with clients to navigate the complicated process, secure additional documentation and provide vouchers (not cash) to pay for the IDs. Reconciliation Services is one of the largest providers of ID assistance in Kansas City thanks to the generosity of our donors.
In 2016, Reconciliation Services launched the I’D BE Campaign to raise awareness about the many things people can be with an ID — housed, employed, educated, healthy and involved. We’ve already provided 1,200 IDs, valued at more than $17,000, this year to help people take their first steps toward self-sufficiency.
Our country has revealed itself to be deeply divided over pressing issues such as immigration, economic policy, education, health care and public benefits. Perhaps where we will find common ground is in working together to ensure that all of our neighbors, especially the poor, can secure the ID they need to access privileges, services and rights without complication or undue burden. It might be just the right place to start.
Justin Mathews is the executive director of Reconciliation Services at 31st Street and Troost Avenue, which provides social, therapeutic and economic community-building services with the vision of transforming Troost from a dividing line to a gathering place of hope and reconciliation. He is also the priest at St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Christian Church, a multicultural community of faith in the heart of Kansas City.