Trapped In Limbo: IDignity Helps People Recover Proof of Identification

In her wallet, a 92-year-old woman carries family photographs and an expired credit card, merely distant remnants of an identity. Suffering from dementia and aware of her worsening condition, she knew she would soon need the round-the-clock care and attention of an assisted living facility. But she had lost her state license and birth certificate in a move months earlier, and she was stuck. She had been married twice but could not recall where her first marriage took place. The inability to trace her name from birth disqualified her from obtaining a state-issued driver’s license.

Her daughter spent months sifting through mountains of paperwork, looking for any legally binding trace of her mother’s past. Without enough credible evidence to present to government agencies, the mother remained without identification, meaning she could not be admitted into a home. A daughter’s dedication to her mother’s need left them in a state of despair, chasing government agencies, seeking help and stacking new mountains of documents on an already crowded desktop.

Without identification, citizens cannot apply for a job, get an education from a higher learning institution or trade school, receive benefits, cash checks, secure housing, open a bank account, and the list goes on. There is power in a name and the ability to prove it’s yours.

One local nonprofit advocates on behalf of individuals who are in need of identification. “We chart the path of least resistance for these members of our community so they can embark on a new, productive journey,” said Michael Dippy, executive director and a co-founder of IDignity. “Sometimes certain cases can take years to navigate, but we’ve proven that we can solve pretty much any case as long as the client stays with us.”

He and the IDignity team were able to track down the mother’s marriage license, assist in obtaining her state ID card, and secure a spot for her in a local home. “The most important thing for everyone to realize is that identification has to be hard to obtain. It makes sense that she couldn’t get her mom into a nursing home without a state-issued driver’s license. It’s not that these establishments don’t want to help,” Dippy said.

Over the course of five years, IDignity has assisted more than 20,000 individuals in acquiring identification in Orange County alone. These are citizens who are now functioning members of society and are able to apply for jobs, enroll in school or secure housing. They are also individuals who can now be admitted into nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities or homeless shelters — safe places to call home or to start anew.

A Shared Vision

Each month, IDignity hosts an event in Orange County where more than 100 volunteers gather in one location to work with attorneys, the Social Security Administration, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, the Orange County Health Department, the Orange County Tax Collector and other government agencies to help local residents track down their history and obtain their legal identity. The IDignity staff and volunteers act as advocates for the clients who come to the event seeking help.

“The beautiful part about that is if there is an issue between the different government agencies, they can usually work it out right there,” Dippy said. “Many of these agencies don’t cross-pollinate well ‘out in the wild,’ but with our system, they’re all present in one place, ready to help.”

What could take weeks, months or even years can take a matter of hours or days with the help of IDignity. “All of these individuals who are showing up for help, every single one of them has tried to get an ID on their own and failed. It’s not the first stop. And it’s often not their fault.”

The Ghosts of Society

The Adams family returned from an afternoon outing to find that their house had been broken into. The burglars completely destroyed the home and stole everything — including paperwork, appliances, the bathtub and doorknobs. This wife, husband and their four children were stripped of most of their belongings, including their identification. The Adamses were living in Flint, Michigan, at the time. To them, that was the last straw. They packed up what few belongings were left and headed for Florida.

Once in Orlando, they still had yet another series of uphill battles. Unable to apply for jobs, secure housing or enroll the children in the school system, the family was stuck. The parents learned about IDignity and sought help after weeks of struggling. Paige and Kevin Adams now are both employed, they have a home and their children are happily adjusted to their new schools.

“Our clients often say they feel like the ghosts of our society,” Dippy said. “They wake up every morning stuck in a powerless existence. Identification is the foundational piece of being a functioning citizen.

“This could happen to anyone. And it’s not a problem you can solve by just making the regulations easier, because if there’s no credibility to identification, anyone could claim to be you and access your assets,” he said. “The right track is supporting an organization that can help those members of society who can’t overcome these barriers on their own.”

About the author

Elyssa Coultas

Elyssa Coultas

As digital brand manager and writer for i4 Business, Elyssa Coultas anticipates learning from the i4 team and continuing to grow as a writer, designer and entrepreneur.

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