While focus in the run-up to the 2012 election has been on Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, there are a variety of reasons that Philadelphians seek copies of official documents.
About two hundred turned up at a birth certificate clinic put on by the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP).
HAP holds two events a year dedicated just to birth certificate applications. Attendees sat across folding tables from corporate lawyers to go over paperwork.
Paul Garey came in a van from a veteran’s center. He has a crumpled manila envelope with every personal document he has, but not his birth certificate.
“I move a lot. and with me being homeless, papers get lost,” said Garey.
Once you’ve lost your documents, life gets more challenging. Garey does want to get a photo ID to vote; but he has also been told having a birth certificate will help him get into homeless shelters.
“When you’re homeless, one of the issues is you’ve lost all your stuff,” pointed out Mary Scanlon, one of a dozen lawyers volunteering from law firm Ballard Spahr.
“The first thing that people need in able to get housing, in able to get housing assistance, in order to get identification is usually a birth certificate,” she said.
Scanlon says her firm has hosted its own bi-monthly clinic for more than 20 years to help homeless people with various legal problems. She says more people show up since the voter ID law took effect.
“Where we would see maybe three or four requests for birth certificates in a clinic, this year it’s been 25 or 30 requests,” said Scanlon.
Some applicants complain that they have received conflicting information about which documents they need to get a PennDOT ID.
The Homeless Advocacy Project says the safest bet is to get people every document they can, so even if an individual PennDOT employee doesn’t know all the rules, no one can get turned away.