This Tech Nonprofit Is Trying to Help Homeless People Get IDs

By: Mary Mazzoni

A MiniCity wearable wristband. Image: Courtesy MiniCity

Most chronically homeless people don’t have a valid ID and can’t afford to get one. A team of Atlanta entrepreneurs are out to break the ID barrier — which can bar homeless people from getting jobs, obtaining housing, and accessing vital government services.

For most of us, losing a photo ID is little more than a wasted afternoon at the local Department of Motor Vehicles. But for the 2.5 to 3.5 million Americans who experience homelessness every year, valid identification can be the difference between life and death. Applicants must prove their identities in order to access federal programs like Social Security and Medicaid and to legally work, open a bank account, or sign a lease. Lack of identification can even prevent people from entering temporary shelters. This issue disproportionately affects homeless people, who are among the most likely to be without vital documents.

In Atlanta, where 10,000 people experience homelessness on any given night, tech designer India Hayes, communications pro Amber McCain, and filmmaker Anita Jones are trying to solve some of these problems by helping them replace lost or stolen documents so they can obtain government identification.

The trio’s social enterprise, Mini City, launched in 2017 with a year-long pilot at the Salvation Army of Metro Atlanta — where they helped hundreds of people through the process of obtaining vital records. “Vital records are not typically top of mind for people when serving the homeless population,” Jones says. “We’re looking to fill that gap and allow people to take the next step out of transitional housing or off the street.”

The organization says it helps “streamline the process for access to voter IDs, birth certificates, social security cards, state IDs, and employment services.”

McCain, Jones and Hayes of MiniCity. Image: MiniCity

At last official count in 2016, 12 percent of the U.S. population — more than 40 million Americans — were below the poverty line. Nearly half of them live in absolute poverty, meaning their incomes can’t cover basic needs like food and shelter, and 5.3 million earn less than $4 a day, putting them on par with the world’s poorest. People of color, particularly black people, are disproportionately impacted: Though African Americans make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population, 42 percent of people experiencing homelessness are black.

This story is in partnership with Motherboard. Click here to read the full article.