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The ID dilemma: How New Hampshire’s ID laws are ‘keeping people homeless’

Jeffrey Tempest arrived at a shelter with his birth certificate as his only form of identification, after his backpack had been stolen while living in a tent. It took him five months, with the help of a case manager, to get an ID.
Jeffrey Tempest
Courtesy photo
Jeffrey Tempest arrived at a shelter with his birth certificate as his only form of identification, after his backpack had been stolen while living in a tent. It took him five months, with the help of a case manager, to get an ID.

This story was originally produced by Nashua Ink Link. NHPR is republishing it in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative.

Jeffrey Tempest became a client at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter in November after a series of events left him without a home.

“My children’s mother died, so my mother-in-law kicked me and my daughter out of the house, and we lived in a motel for a while,” he said. “My ex’s best friend got custody of my daughter through the courts because I couldn’t take care of her, and I broke my foot and left arm [so] then I couldn’t work [and] I couldn’t pay the motel.”

Once at the shelter, Tempest began working with case manager Elisia Geyer in early December. Together they set out to get Tempest an ID, a five-month process that Geyer described as, “incredibly frustrating.”

“We have a real problem in getting our clients IDs,” said June Lemen, the shelter’s community projects coordinator. “If you already have a birth certificate and a social security card you can get an ID. But when you don’t – and homeless people frequently do not – it becomes this incredible system of deny, deny, deny.”

According to executive director Jane Goodman, this is one of the biggest barriers the unhoused population faces. The shelter has turned to the Nashua Congressional Delegation for help to see if it’s possible to create legislation that would relax some of the ID laws.

While the laws are put in place to protect people’s identities, they also make it difficult for people to overcome homelessness.

“It won’t just benefit us. We work with so many partner agencies and nobody can find their IDs so I know if we can coalesce this delegation we will have support from at least ten agencies to sign onto this and across the state,” she said. “I have no doubt that we could get a statewide crush of support.”

The 'trifecta'

Without an ID, one cannot get housing or a job. To get an ID, one needs a Social Security card and birth certificate. To get a Social Security card, one needs a birth certificate, and to get a birth certificate, one needs an ID.

“It’s like a trifecta,” Geyer said. “You need to have two to get the other, and so if you have two documents, we’re good, you can get the third document. If someone doesn’t have a Social Security card and an ID, then it’s an uphill battle.”

Tempest arrived at the shelter with his birth certificate as his only form of identification, after his backpack had been stolen while living in a tent. As he was unhoused and without a job, the only way he could prove his Social Security number was with a Social Security card.

This took Tempest five trips to the Social Security office over the course of three months, as they didn’t like the condition of his birth certificate.

With his birth certificate and Social Security card, the money order given by the shelter for the ID expired. After collecting more documents the DMV requested, the letter of residency from the shelter had also expired according to their requirements.

“[It’s] little things like that where it almost feels personal for me – it feels like another experience where people are being stigmatized for how they present,” Geyer said. “I created another letter of residency for him with a very clear and current date.” According to [Tempest], the DMV employee went to get his supervisor to look over the letter and openly expressed that they don’t like me.”

“It really seems extra [in New Hampshire] as far as just doing anything they can not to provide services,” she added. “It’s really tough. They’re keeping people homeless with this.”

This issue is not exclusive to Nashua, but affects the unhoused population all across the country. The National Conversation is an organization that aims to end and prevent homelessness nationwide and create a solution across all 50 states to the issues that come from the ID barrier.

According to Lemen, this issue applies to more than just the unhoused population. She noted a time a friend’s Social Security card wasn’t accepted because there was tape on it.

“If your house burns down in a fire and you lose all your documentation, what are you supposed to do?” she said.


 “I think for me the part that I get really upset about is there’s this stigma that people who are unhoused are lazy and won’t get a job,” Geyer said. “I’m over here like, they can’t. So make it easier for us to do that.”

“Anyone can be homeless,” Goodman added. “Anyone can be a paycheck away.”

This was true for several others, including a female client who fled domestic abuse and can’t get housing due to not having five years of rental history.

Also true for a man who came to the shelter after a divorce left him without a home, a chemist who has trouble finding work due to being a senior citizens, and who has been denied housing for not having four professional references.

And also for the 25 year old who was disowned by his family for being bisexual.

Also, for another client who stayed at the shelter because they could not get his birth certificate from Vital Records in Brooklyn. He had a photocopy of his Social Security card and his old ID, but Vital Records would not accept them.

“If there’s domestic violence, [bad] decisions, substance misuse, anyone could be [homeless] at any moment,” Goodman said. “It doesn’t mean we give up on them.”

Prior to being at the shelter, Tempest had worked odd jobs, mostly in construction, under the table since being without an ID. After getting his ID in early May, Tempest was able to go for a job interview a few weeks later.

“Ellie is awesome, she helps me a lot and I guarantee that she helps a lot of other people too,” Tempest said. “[Without] people like her, I would be in the same boat I was before, still bailing out [of] the boat.”

Federally compliant identity and residency requirements to get an ID can be found here.

Click here to see requirements for a Social Security card and here for certificate requirements. 

These articles are being co-produced by Nashua Ink Link, Nashua Digital and Granite State News Collaborative and shared with partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information

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