Who are you?

Last year, the Government of Alberta announced a program to  address one of the major challenges in obtaining identification without permanent residence. The new identification process allows agencies to apply for identification on a client’s behalf, using the agency’s address as proof of residence.

The program was met with both apprehension and great interest. If done well, if delivered appropriately, it could make all the difference to someone who has to deal with being unable to prove you are who you say you are day in and day out.

A year into the program, it’s difficult to identify if it’s working as well as expected—though what is clear, is that it’s making a difference to many.

The number of identification cards is up by nearly 300, according to an internal survey done in early 2011 by the Government of Alberta, although the survey was not a very thorough or methodologically sound snapshot, according to a Ministry of Human Services spokesperson. A full audit of the program is planned for 2012.

Agencies also report increased interest and the seeking out of information on obtaining ID. The ministry reports that this sometimes leads to persons being able to obtain ID easily, having the required documentation already unknowingly.

In Edmonton, Urban Manor offers 75 transitional and long-term beds for men. Michele Dowling, a case worker with Urban Manor, has seen the direct results of the identification program. “It has made getting ID for residents much easier. It is a one stop shop now, instead of having to run to different registers and all over the place,” she says. “It has made it much more accessible to the guys.”
However, the challenges that were initially recognized have yet to be reconciled. Documentation is still challenging to obtain—especially for those agencies that deal with large client bases and limited funding—and high-needs clients often don’t stay in one place for too long.

Service Alberta has a minimum fee the government charges, but no standardized service fee. It is “market dependent” for vital statistic documents: marriage licenses, birth certificates, and death certificates. Any registry in the province can charge whatever service fee, on top of the government-mandated fee, that they so choose. The spokesperson from the Ministry of Human Services did assure that the cost of an identification card itself is regulated by Service Alberta as to not prove a financial barrier.

Aside from the financial issues, there remains the basic issue of institutional distrust. The long-term care facilities, like Urban Manor, are able to reconnect with their clientele consistently, but larger centres such as the Calgary Drop-In Centre or Boyle Street see clients come and go.

Louise Gallagher, public relations and volunteer manager for the Calgary Drop-In Centre, maintains the initial concern she had early on when the program was being introduced to agencies. “There are really wounded people, and as a society we tend to overlook that. What happens is that it becomes easier to give up. They have to keep pushing against all this bureaucracy and they are more likely to give up.”

Despite the challenges, and the uphill battle to connect with persons who have been mistreated and ostracized for so long, Dowling and Gallagher both express that it is worth it.
Dowling can visibly see the change in Urban Manor’s clients. “They are not concerned about being stopped by the police anymore because they can prove who they are and where they live. They exist because of a piece of plastic in their pocket.”

Originally published in VUE weekly. January 23rd, 2011 Issue #840


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