Jessica Collins (center) with ID Recovery clients in Prospects Courtyard at Haven for Hope. Courtesy photo.
Jessica Collins (center) with ID Recovery clients in Prospects Courtyard at Haven for Hope. Courtesy photo.

Bank account, driver’s license, health insurance, employment: What do they have in common? You need some form of identification to get them. We take for granted the value of being able to prove who we are.

The photo ID we carry in our wallets opens far more doors than we realize. For those without photo ID or wallets, those doors are closed. For homeless people without family support, without access to their own personal identification, much of the world can seem closed for entry.

The Haven for Hope ID Recovery Program has helped hundreds of Haven residents and San Antonians reclaim their identities. Haven for Hope’s programming itself requires an ID.

I first started going to Haven for Hope two years ago as a student attorney and was instantly overwhelmed by the atmosphere and people at Prospects Courtyard.  My experience has been a mixture of sadness, humbleness, appreciation, helplessness, and happiness.  Before my time at Haven, I never imagined homelessness as I saw it there.

I grew up around a large family and can’t imagine life without that family. Most people at Haven are alone, distant or estranged from family: truly alone. Some are estranged, some are victims of family abuse, and some struggle with mental illness or substance abuse, which often contribute to declining family contact and support.

Working at Haven was humbling. I knew everyone experiences rough times, but I also learned the most important thing is to rise above such challenges and setbacks and move on. Many clients who utilize the ID Recovery Program have been released recently from incarceration, amnd acquiring an ID helps them move forward, while Haven provides them with a place to stay and resources to get them back on track.

My sense of appreciation for the program comes from knowing how essential ID can be to a person re-establishing themselves. Without it, forget about it. My favorite moments at Haven come when clients express gratitude for he help they receive;  some clients cry, but most just respond with a sigh of relief and the biggest smile you have ever seen.

I, myself,  experience helplessness at times because I realize I am only helping clients attain a Texas ID.  It’s a small step, but I take pride in helping people help themselves. I felt really happy going to Haven every week.  I love helping others and I love the challenge of dozens of clients swarming the office in search of their documents.  Most of all, my time with the people there made me happy.

St. Mary’s Center for Legal and Social Justice started the ID Recovery Program several years ago.  It has benefitted thousands of homeless individuals who are members of Prospects Courtyard at Haven for Hope.  The ID Recovery program is run mainly by teaching assistants, who are past student attorneys with the Civil Justice Clinic at the Center for Legal and Social Justice.  Along with the teaching assistants, there are current student attorneys enrolled in the clinic, staff members, and volunteers.

The program focuses on supplying members of PCY with the proper documents that allows them to obtain a Texas ID.  Texas IDs are needed for everything from housing and jobs to social security benefits, along with the general aspects of moving through life with proper identification.

Entrance to the Haven for Hope Bill Greehey Transformational Campus. Courtesy photo.
Entrance to the Haven for Hope Bill Greehey Transformational Campus. Courtesy photo.

ID Recovery team members assemble in a small office. Our day involves giving past clients documents requested on their behalf or doing client intakes to determine how exactly we can help the client obtain ID.
The ID Recovery Program takes place every Friday, except for certain holidays, from 1-3 p.m.

Some clients are able to receive the documents they need on their first visit and can go to the Department of Public Safety offices to obtain their Texas ID.  In other cases, the Civil Justice Clinic may need to request certain documents in order for the clients to obtain their Texas ID.

Documents that are normally needed include a previous Texas ID within two years of expiration, a non-Texas ID within two years of expiration, a Social Security card or numident, a birth certificate, high school transcripts, a Texas Affidavit of Residency, or possibly a voter registration card, as well as a money order.

Through grants furnished to the Civil Justice Clinic, we are able to pay for expenses associated with requesting documents and obtaining the ID from DPS.  If we are unable to send a client directly to DPS, which happens often, we take their information back to the CJC office and begin the document request process.

I requested birth certificates weekly from Vital Records & Statistics registries in different states and also faxed high school transcript requests to schools nationwide. Some clients are from Texas, but others come from California, New York, Louisiana, and other states.  Occasionally, we need to request documents from other countries, such as Guyana and Mexico.

Another component of the ID Recovery Program is identity theft.  Some clients have had their identity and/or identification documents stolen.  The Civil Justice Clinic is equipped with procedures to start the process of alerting credit bureaus of suspected theft and to get the client on track to mitigate the damages of their identity theft.

At the end of the day, the people living at Haven are like anyone else.  They experience the same feelings as everyone else, though compounded by homelessness.  The impact on me there is indescribable. I will always have a special place in my heart for the homeless community.  I hope to continue to help members of the homeless community and those most in need.

Programs like ID Recovery really do make a difference in helping the homeless make strides in gaining their independence and becoming productive members of society.

*Featured/top image: Jessica Collins (center) with ID Recovery clients in Prospects Courtyard at Haven for Hope. Courtesy photo.

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Jessica Collins just graduated from St. Mary's University School of Law with a Doctor of Jurisprudence. She is currently studying in San Antonio to take the Texas Bar Examination.