Legislation seeks free IDs for homeless

William James Gerlich

More than 265,000 Texans are homeless, but two Austin representatives are attempting to lower the number by introducing legislation that would allow homeless individuals the ability to acquire a free Texas identification card — a basic necessity to gainful employment.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, held a press conference Thursday at Caritas, a nonprofit refugee and social service organization, and further discussed the legislation’s goal of making more homeless individuals economically self-sufficient.

“This legislation will help a lot of folks that Caritas helps and make a real difference in many lives,” said Watson.

The proposed legislation would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to waive the $16 fee associated with obtaining an ID as long as applicants are able to verify their homeless status by filling out an affidavit.

“It’s not uncommon for individuals facing homelessness to lose or leave behind many of their belongings, including personal identification,” Rep. Naishtat said in a press release. “This legislation is crucial because without an ID, people do not have access to services, access to permanent housing or access to employment opportunities. This proposal will help to lift individuals out of the cycle of homelessness.”

Assistant Development Director of the Salvation Army Robert Cox said homeless people need an identification card to perform everyday functions.

The Salvation Army, however, already offers free assistance for homeless individuals to gain an identification card, Cox said. The organization has numerous social workers, and homeless individuals that acquire a bed for the night are able to utilize the department and gain assistance.

Peewee Offutt, a homeless man who resides on and near the Drag, said that he would absolutely take advantage of acquiring a free identification card if the bill passed.

“Austin has a lot of organizations I can go to for assistance, but being able to get an ID for free would help out a lot,” Offutt said.
Offutt’s current identification is out of state and expired in 2007. Although he has been homeless for nearly 10 years, he said it would be very difficult to find a job without a current ID.