Wichita’s Fight for Homeless Identification Solutions

municipal IDs for Homeless People

Local leaders in Wichita, Kansas, are exploring the creation of municipal IDs to help unhoused individuals obtain identification more easily, which is crucial for accessing services, employment, and housing.

Creative Solutions at the Local Level Can Help Eliminate Barriers to Escaping Homelessness

The lack of official documents is a big problem for many homeless people. Birth certificates, ID cards, Social Security cards, and other paperwork the government will want to periodically see are frequently lost or destroyed during encampment sweeps, inclement weather, or just the general shuffle of everyday life without stable housing.

Not having proper documentation can lead to issues accessing social programs, getting hired for a job, or having a housing application accepted. Even something as simple as a library card can be out of reach without the proper papers. While losing one’s identification is a headache for housed people, it can keep unhoused people trapped in a vicious cycle that is difficult or impossible to escape.

Seeing this play out in their community, officials in Wichita, Kansas, decided to try something different. They have been brainstorming ways to remove barriers that stop unhoused people from obtaining and keeping state-issued ID cards. They would like to implement a system of local IDs that would be easier to get than the state or federal versions, but they’ll face a fight with the state to do it.

How Do Local IDs Work?

Local IDs, or municipal IDs, work basically the same way as a state ID, just on a smaller scale. It’s not the same as a driver’s license, though a lot of people use their state driver’s license as their primary form of identification.

Municipal IDs are given out and recognized by a city and grant access to services within that city. An existing example of a municipal ID is the Fountain Card, a local ID available in Kansas City, Missouri, that was rolled out at the beginning of this year.

The Fountain Card is available to all residents of Kansas City, MO, and is accepted as a valid form of identification at Kansas City Water Services, Kansas City Public Works, and Kansas City Parks and Recreation, with plans to expand acceptance to the Kansas City Public Library and local banking institutions as well.

The Fountain Card system allows residents easy access to local services like recycling and compost drop off, community centers, bus and streetcar transit, tow lot services, parking services, and permit services, with more to come in the future.

How Do You Get It?

Since the local ID was suggested specifically as a way to connect people with photo identification at a lower barrier to entry than a traditional state ID requires, it should be fairly easy to access. Of course, the details haven’t been finalized yet. Still, everyone involved seems adamant that the municipal ID they’re proposing should be more accessible for homeless people than State IDs currently are.

As with the Fountain Card (which serves as a blueprint for this project), some documentation would still be required to prove both identity and residency. It is not yet known what the requirements would be for Sedgwick County’s version of this card, but the current requirements for the Fountain Card involve one primary identification document that may include any of the following:

  • State-issued driver’s license that includes a photograph and date of birth.
  • State-issued identification card that includes a photograph and date of birth.
  • U.S. military identification card that includes a photograph
  • U.S. passport with a current photograph
  • School identification card/document showing the applicant’s name, photograph, and date of the school year.
  • Work identification card that includes the applicant’s name, photograph, and company name.

You still have options if you can’t provide any of those primary documents. Fountain Cards can be issued to a person with two or more of the following forms of alternate identification:

  • Letter from government or social service agencies attesting to the identity of the applicant
  • School yearbook
  • A W-2 form issued within the last year in addition to a signed Social Security card (social security numbers must match)
  • Court-certified adoption papers that include adopted parent(s) name(s)
  • Official certified deeds or a title to property
  • Certificate of vehicle title of registration documents
  • Proof of auto insurance
  • Insurance policy (health, home, life, etc.)
  • Medicaid/Medicare document or identification card
  • Payroll stub that includes the social security number of the applicant (cannot be handwritten stubs)
  • Military discharge document (DD-214)
  • Canceled duplicate check (must show name, address, signature, and name of institution)
  • Utility bill which shows name and address of applicant (water, gas, electric, telephone)
  • Voter registration card
  • Shelter name band (including name of shelter)

As far as proof of residency, that can be established with any one of the following documents:

  • Credit card bill or statement
  • Insurance bill or policy (health, home, life, etc.)
  • Housing lease or rental agreement, unexpired
  • Mortgage or local property tax statement
  • Payroll stub
  • Utility bill which shows name and address of the applicant (water, gas, electric, telephone)
  • Cable bill
  • Bank statement
  • Voter registration card
  • Proof of a minor enrolled in public or private school
  • Jury summons or court order
  • Original documents from a health or social services organization attesting to the fact that the applicant is a Kansas City, MO, resident

This is certainly a lot more flexible than the current requirements for state identification cards, where if you don’t have a certain primary document, you’re flat out of luck. Assuming Wichita will propose similar requirements for its own municipal ID, this will give a lot more unhoused people access to photo identification and could really change a lot of lives.

Trouble on the Horizon

One major thing stands in the way of local leaders’ push to implement lower barrier IDs in Wichita. Two years ago, state legislators passed a law prohibiting municipalities from creating local forms of identification like this. And if you’re wondering why they would bother to ban such a random thing like that, I regret to inform you that it was because of that old chestnut- racism and xenophobia. State lawmakers are working hard to ensure that Kansas has no Sanctuary Cities.

Local legislators say they’re willing to work with state leaders and show them a “legitimate need” for this type of low-barrier local identification in their communities. Still, it’s uncertain whether the state will want to back down on its ban so soon after implementing it.

And as we’ve seen in the homelessness sphere time and time again, “everyday Americans” are more than willing to sacrifice a few of their own rights and privileges (or better yet, a few of their neighbors) as long as someone else is getting the shorter end of the stick. State legislators are unlikely to suddenly see reason when this “legitimate need” is pointed out to them because, at the heart of it all, the cruelty of the law was the point in the first place.

So what if there are a few more victims than intended? As long as they’re all people society has deemed as “other,” society will see no need to fix anything.

But Maybe Hope, Too

At the very least, this effort can inspire local governments nationwide who are not yet bound by a ban. We’ve already seen it done on the Missouri side of Kansas City. It’s perfect for places that want to try something a little different to make a difference for their residents.

We may start seeing municipal IDs implemented in more towns and cities nationwide. Ideally, good results will start to speak for themselves, granting unhoused people with brand new municipal IDs increased access to employment, housing, and programs designed to help those in their exact situation. And who can argue with that?

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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