You’ve heard at least one person say it, whether on the news or in the workroom cafeteria. If you work in any area of human services, you’ve heard it many times. “Why don’t they just get off the couch and get a job?! The poor are lazy.”
For the next few weeks, we will focus on aspects of the work we have done recently with gang members and their families which expose some of the barriers preventing the poor from social mobility in today’s world.
lllegal immigrants are not the only ones without their papers these days. The poor also struggle to prove their identity in order to find employment and benefit from government services. Thanks in large part to the fear of terrorism and identity theft, government agencies have become labyrinths which are nearly impossible to navigate without the right documents.
Brothers and Sisters of Love recently experienced one of these mazes for three individuals trying to obtain state identification. One woman needed her ID to go to court against her ex-husband. Her grandson needed his ID to find employment. His friend needed his ID to collect a bank account from his deceased father, obtain a Link card, and find housing. This is the tale of each of their struggles:
1. A woman in her sixties, barely ambulatory, goes to the Secretary of State’s building. After struggling up the long walkway, she gets moved to the front of the line. She provides her two letters proving address, her social security card, and her birth certificate. She is still denied her identification because her married name is on her social security card. Later, we all take a trip to theCountyClerk’s office, which is up another long walkway, through security, and upstairs. After the feeble woman is made to stand in line, she obtains her marriage license, which costs $15, a hefty sum when there are no finances coming into the home. BS/L pays, and we make the painful journey back down the walk. We return to the Secretary of State’s building, go through the process again, and struggle through walking to several stations. $20 more dollars later from BS/L, the woman receives her identification.
2. The grandson attempts to get his identification from the Secretary of State’s building as well. He does not have his Social Security card, but has a partially ripped birth certificate, a school ID that expired in 2007, only one proof of address that counts, and release papers from prison with photo identification on them. He is denied due to insufficient papers and told to go the Social Security Administration to obtain a Social Security card. When we go to the Social Security Administration, a birth certificate and these other means of identification still do not count as acceptable identification unless he knows his Social Security number. The grandson, who is 20 years odl, has a learning disability, and has dropped out of school, does not remember his number and is denied a Social Security card. There is no trace of the social security card at home, where the only filing system of records is stuffing receipts haphazardly into purses and sock drawers. He hopes Br. Jim will find a way.
3. The grandson’s friend follows the same pattern as the grandson and ends up at the Social Security Administration. He is able to give his Social Security number and enough evidence of identification. The administration offers to mail the card to the address on his envelope, which happens to be his old address. This friend (age 18) ran away from his aunt who was holding his social security checks and bank money from his deceased father. Without the social security card, the friend cannot change this. Therefore, he is convinced that the aunt will never hand over the card, and thus, he will not be able to get state identification. After battling with the agency, they remain steadfast that they are not authorized by law to send the card to an alternative address. Br. Jim will go with him to see his aunt, and they hope that together they can obtain the card.
How frustrating would it be if you could not prove your own identity? Without it, you could not apply for a job, have a bank account, receive any government benefits or even vote. Think about how many times in a given week you flash your ID for access to something.
And how many of you would take the energy to go from one agency to the next trying to prove yourself until someone gave you a break? The circular denial of identity contributes to a permanent underclass of individuals who need help to access resources and employment.
Let us pray for the release of the structures that keep the poor pegged down, and be forgiving to those who do not have the strength to endure the struggle on their own. How can we hold our neighbors up in love this week? How can we spread awareness and understanding for their plight?
–Megan Sherrier, BSL
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