Reconciliation Services, a local nonprofit, brought its services to City Hall on April 7 to help the houseless community get IDs. Without an ID, people don’t have access to state and federal aid like the pandemic stimulus money. (Chase Castor/The Beacon)

Unhoused people in Kansas City, Missouri, recently got immediate help to overcome one of the biggest barriers to accessing the services they need: an ID.

On April 7, after getting contact from the mayor’s office, case managers from local nonprofit Reconciliation Services set up tables to assist unhoused people who had been occupying the lawn of City Hall. The direct outreach came as a result of meetings between the Kansas City Homeless Union and city officials. 

In just one day, case managers met with about 50 people and conducted over 30 appointments that kickstarted the process for people to receive an ID or birth certificate. Case managers at the camp started basic intake forms, worked with them to apply for a Missouri state ID and set up future appointments to continue the process. 

For unhoused people, living without a valid photo ID — whether in the form of a driver’s license, a state-issued ID or a passport — is a major obstacle. It can make it more difficult or even prevent them from accessing shelter, getting a job, receiving medical care, opening a bank account or applying for crucial aid like food stamps or Social Security benefits. 

In Kansas and Missouri, a valid ID is needed to cast a vote, effectively shutting out many unhoused people from the democratic process. 

The Rev. Justin Mathews, executive director at Reconciliation Services, said without an ID, people lose a sense of empowerment and dignity in being able to prove their identity. 

“There are really simple things that can help people take the next step forward,” he said. “And an ID is one of those very first ones. If you don’t have an ID, you can’t apply for public assistance, you can’t apply for any of the support that’s available, even in the city, you can’t get on a Greyhound and travel home.”

James Qadhafi Shelby, who goes by Qadhafi, said the presence of ID services at the former camp outside City Hall reflects a small, albeit positive, sign of progress on behalf of the city.

“It ain’t everything,” he said. “But little things count, too.”

Unhoused people face obstacles without an ID

Raymond Denson knows firsthand the difficulties of living without stable housing or an ID. 

“They don’t know who you are if you ain’t got no ID,” Denson said. “You can’t get nothing.”

Denson was one of the unhoused people at the City Hall encampment who met with a case manager about getting a new ID. He even scheduled his next appointment with Reconciliation Services. 

What Denson really wants is a one-bedroom apartment, he said — but he needs an ID first. 

“I gotta make that move,” he said. 

A case manager from Reconciliation Services worker, left, helps Raymond Denson start the process of getting an ID on April 7 at City Hall in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. (Chase Castor/The Beacon)

The need for IDs came up in meetings between the Kansas City Homeless Union and city officials. Last week, after a monthslong political occupation of the front lawn of City Hall, the Kansas City Homeless Union negotiated several short- and long-term policies with city officials to meet the needs of unhoused people, including shelter in hotel rooms for up to 90 days. 

The camp outside City Hall and Camp 6ixx in Westport — which were two of the city’s largest encampments for unhoused people — have since cleared after the city and social service organizations placed more than 200 people in hotel rooms. 

Morgan Said, a spokesperson for Mayor Quinton Lucas, said the city plans to connect the same individuals with services they might need, including ID services. 

Renewing or getting a license at a Department of Motor Vehicles office requires two existing forms of ID, like a birth certificate and a Social Security card. It’s why Reconciliation Services also helps with getting birth certificates. 

Mathews said there are people who qualify for benefits like Social Security or the $1,400 stimulus checks sent last month. But they can’t access these benefits without a valid address or ID. 

“So reconstituting somebody’s ID, and putting together those basic building blocks, can then lead to so many other opportunities,” he said.

Jeffrey, who declined to give his last name for privacy concerns, had been living at the City Hall encampment after being released from jail. He didn’t have anything when he got out. He got help renewing his driver’s license, which will lay the groundwork as he looks for a job and a home for himself and his kids. 

“I’m appreciative of what they did,” Jeffrey said of the team from Reconciliation Services. “Those are big moves and big steps. Even as people, to be able to see other people’s needs and stepping in and kind of help them do something, that’s wonderful to me.”

How other states and cities are removing barriers to IDs

Some states and localities have taken further steps to remove barriers to getting identification. Last year, Pennsylvania officials passed a law allowing unhoused people to get a free photo ID. States like California, Georgia, Illinois and Michigan also waive ID fees for unhoused people. 

In Chicago, people can get a no-cost municipal ID from the city called CityKey, which provides residents with valid and official identification regardless of their housing status, immigration status, gender identity and more. The ID is accepted by all city departments and provides access to Chicago’s public transit and public library systems. 

The states of Kansas and Missouri and the city of Kansas City, Missouri, do not have similar programs or policies. Instead, Kansas City, Missouri provides funding to Reconciliation Services and other local service providers to continue their operations and services for unhoused people, which stretch beyond providing IDs. 

Reconciliation Services, which provides its services for free, raises money to pay for the cost of securing an ID  — about $25 a person on average, Mathews said. 

Rev. Justin Mathews is the executive director of Reconciliation Services, a social services organization in Kansas City, Missouri. The organization helps unhoused people apply for valid IDs. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Last year, Mathews said Reconciliation Services helped over 1,500 people get their birth certificates or IDs. 

“Getting an ID … is like drilling a deep well of hope and possibility,” Mathews said. “That then leads to so many other things that people require in order to achieve their goals and move forward in life.”

Mayor Lucas said the in-person outreach by Reconciliation Services reflects how vital community organizations are in helping unhoused people. He said the solutions to solve homelessness cannot lie with the city alone, but that the city will continue working with community organizations to ensure similar outreach services continue to be available. 

“There are a lot of organizations that we need to connect with and make sure that we’re connecting people to,” he said at a news conference April 7 in response to a question asked by The Beacon. “And so the city is going to continue to try to make sure those opportunities are there.”

Mathews would like to do this kind of outreach more frequently, but it’s difficult without the financial resources to support a dedicated outreach team. He hopes the visibility of the Kansas City Homeless Union, on top of the pandemic’s impacts, can help people understand that addressing issues like homelessness and housing requires a comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck approach. 

“We have to have the will to begin,” Mathews said. “Right now, we do what we can. And I think it makes a big impact. There’s certainly more work than we could possibly do alone.”

Resources: How to get an ID in Kansas City if you are unhoused

What organizations in Kansas City offer assistance for unhoused individuals who need an ID?

Reconciliation Services offers ID services for unhoused individuals. People can make an appointment to get a copy of their birth certificate, photo ID or work permit. Walk-ins and appointments for these services are accepted every Tuesday and Thursday.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Reconciliation Services is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. 

How do I contact these organizations to schedule an appointment or inquire more about these ID services? 

For Reconciliation Services, call 816-931-4751, extension 1.

How can I get to my appointment? 

Reconciliation Services is located at the corner of 31st and Troost. There are Ride KC bus stops located at this intersection. The bus routes that stop here are the 31, the 25, the Troost Max (TMAX). Ride KC buses are free. 

I do not need any ID services, but I want to help. What can I do? 

Reconciliation Services accepts donations to cover the cost of an ID or birth certificate, at $25. You can also donate to support these additional services:

  • Lunch at Thelma’s Kitchen for two people experiencing food insecurity — $10
  • One hour of case management — $45
  • One hour of trauma and depression therapy — $85
  • Two hours of case management — $100
  • Supportive wrap-around services — $250

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Celisa Calacal covers economics and civic engagement issues for The Beacon. Follow her on Twitter @celisa_mia or email her at celisa@thebeacon.media.