Little Miracles on South Beach


DANIEL SHOER ROTH | VIEW FROM EL NUEVO HERALD
Little miracles help homeless secure ID
By DANIEL SHOER ROTH
Most people have no problem proving they are who they say they are.
All it takes is a driver’s license or state ID card, passport, birth certificate, Social Security card, green card or any other government-issued identification. You might even use a letter from your employer or a utility bill displaying name and address.
So what happens if you don’t have any of these?
Inside a tiny office in South Beach, Ernie Earth searches for the answers to this riddle each time he tries to help a homeless person recover his or her identity. On paper, at least.
It is not easy. There are individuals who may not know how to spell their last name or can’t recall their mother’s maiden name. Many, like Adam Arce, are lost in a labyrinth.
”How am I supposed to show a valid photo ID to obtain a birth certificate, if I need a birth certificate to obtain the ID,” asked Arce, 25, who’s from New York and has been homeless off and on since 2003. He was wearing blue uniform trousers he said were given to him at the jail where he recently spent the night.
Like Arce, 2,207 homeless people — U.S-born or legal residents — have knocked on the doors of HOPE in Miami Beach during the past 11 months. Of these, 752 have obtained a Florida state ID, indispensable for obtaining a job or renting a room and, consequently, essential for anyone who wants to leave the street life behind.
HOPE should be a model for other organizations in South Florida seeking to improve living conditions for the homeless.
The Rev. Pedro Martínez, president of HOPE, frames the issue with the old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat forever.”
The HOPE identifications program operates with a $50,000 grant from the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.
This week, Earth tried to explain the process to several HOPE clients, drawing on a generous well of patience. Earth says he was homeless and addicted to drugs more than a decade ago. His current job, he underscores, is to help others “jump through hoops.”
Some of them lose their identifications because they are drunk or high, others because they are mentally ill. Yet many lose their identifications for lack of a safe place to leave their belongings.
Joshua Singhas needed his birth certificate from California. On a crumpled piece of paper he had spelled his mother’s maiden name. He had to call his grandmother to get it. He still needs a sworn statement — notarized — that he is who he is, but he doesn’t have an ID. One option is for two people with valid IDs who know him to swear that he is who he says he is. The only problem is that none of the people who know him has ID, either.
”The ID will help me get a job so I can go to school,” said the 26-year-old Singhas.
Singhas is luckier than some. He still has his Social Security card. Florida officials require two forms of official identification to issue an ID.
By contrast, Arce’s hands are tied. New York law requires a copy of a valid photo ID to obtain a birth certificate, or two documents, like a utility bill and a letter from a government agency. Arce has only a letter from the Social Security Administration.
The frustration was too much, and Arce got upset with Earth, railing as if it were his fault. Earth is used to it. ”I’m making Miami Beach a better place to live,” he said. “We do miracles here.”

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