JR* arrived at the first Access ID clinic certain he’d be told he was out of luck. His landlord had unceremoniously and illegally evicted him and, worse, thrown away all of his belongings including his ID and birth certificate. An experienced welder, he’d been eager to start work, but having ID is required for getting a job.

It’s a requirement for not only getting a job, but for so many everyday tasks: cashing a check. Picking up prescriptions. Opening a bank account.  Signing a lease. It’s easy to forget just how critical having an official form of personal identification is to everyday life. It’s a key that allows each of us to participate both socially and economically in the world around us.

Yet while no one loves a trip to the Department of Licensing, for most of us, getting a new official ID at most takes digging out a birth certificate and waiting in an uncomfortable plastic seat for an hour. For too many people, though, the process can become a complicated maze of documents, appointments, and bureaucracy. That is the exact situation many vulnerable seniors, veterans, and adults with disabilities face – a situation we at the Opportunity Council are excited to help address with our new Access ID clinic.

ID and supporting documents can be lost in floods and fires and are especially difficult to keep secure without a stable place to call home. Older adults that were born at home may never have been issued a birth certificate. People like veterans and older adults that may have traumatic brain injuries or dementia can have difficulty locating documents, and many have no idea what documents they need or how to go about getting them.

To help navigate those invisible barriers, Opportunity Council recently launched the Access ID Clinic. Occurring weekly at the Whatcom County Community Resource Center in downtown Bellingham, the clinic helps people with low incomes apply for and get a state-issued ID card.

Need ID to Get ID

JR was unsure where to even begin when he came to the clinic. No idea what would work or how to prove who he was without the ID he’d lost.

The challenge of obtaining an official document that says who you are is being able to prove who you are – an expensive and frustrating circle of difficulty. The process can require people to provide up to four different forms of unofficial identification. In turn, obtaining each of these unofficial documents has a different process and can cost up to $75 for an official copy.

For JR and others, the Access ID team can help. At that first clinic, JR met Amy, a program specialist with Opportunity Council. She helped JR identify what documents would work and they decided to divide and conquer. JR was able to get two documents on his own, and he and Amy requested the other two online.

At the clinic, people can:

  • Get help requesting certified copies of birth certificates
  • Work with Opportunity Council staff to identify alternative documents verifying their identity and request copies
  • Get help with Department of Licensing costs and other expenses.

When he first came to the clinic, JR didn’t have a lot of hope. He confessed that when he’d first come he “just didn’t think you could do this.” Now armed with the documents he needed, plus a $55 voucher to cover the cost at the DOL, he had what he needed to get the official ID that would open the door to employment, housing, and a fresh start.

The clinic (currently only available in Whatcom County) is open to walk-ins, does not require pre-registration and is NOT restricted to Opportunity Council clients.

The Access ID clinic not only changes the lives of individuals, but the far-reaching effect of accessing economic opportunity also reduces poverty, improves access to mental and physical healthcare, and supports our local economy.

Our communities are made stronger when every person has the chance to reach their fullest potential that cannot be reached without ID. Instead of wasting the potential of far too many who are then unable to get hired, unable to secure a place to call home, unable to get medical care and support from Medicare and Veterans Affairs, unable to access the banking and lending required for financial stability.

*Client name changed for privacy.

For questions or more information about the Access ID clinic contact the Whatcom Community Resource Center.

To ensure everyone has access to official documentation, donate now.