With temperatures predicted to be colder than normal this winter, and Milwaukee County struggling with high levels of food insecurity, exacerbated by the pandemic, easy access to public resources is necessary.
But that also makes something else necessary –easy access to photo identification.
Resources such as shelter, housing, food pantries and Medicaid are often accessible to a person only if they have a specific form of ID.
Many people may take having an ID for granted, but, for those who rely on social services and publicly funded resources, having a photo ID can literally be lifesaving.
IDs available in the city
There are three types of ID one can get in the city, each with its own eligibility criteria and method for obtaining it.
A driver’s license is perhaps the most obvious type of ID. But it is also the most difficult to obtain for people experiencing some form of housing instability, according to Dan Grellinger, outreach coordinator at Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach. Much of the work of Street Angels staff is to reach out to people who are living on the street and connect them to services and resources.
When a person needs a driver’s license, “it’s hard because it costs money,” Grellinger said.
A first-time, or probationary, driver’s license costs $28, after the completion of an instruction permit and passing of a road test. Renewing a driver’s license costs $34.
For a first-time license, there is also a substantial list of documentation needed, which can pose another serious hurdle for people experiencing other difficulties, such as housing or food insecurity. These documents include proof of citizenship or legal residency, proof of identity, proof of Wisconsin residency and a Social Security card.
The second type of ID available to Milwaukee residents is a state ID, which avoids many of the demands of obtaining a driver’s license.
“ID is required for voting in Wisconsin, so they have to issue you one,” Grellinger said.
Since April 2015, voters in Wisconsin have been required to confirm their identity before voting. Because of rights associated with voting, a state ID can be obtained for this purpose free of charge and without other supporting documentation via the Voter ID Petition Process.
Both driver’s licenses and state IDs, however, require a mailing address “to follow up with,” said Grellinger. Those who do not have a regular place to live “don’t know what to do.”
Grellinger informs people that both St. Benedict the Moor Parish and Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit refuge and resource center for people experiencing homelessness, allow people to send mail to their address. They “are both open during the day, and you can go pick it up pretty easily.”
The third type of photo ID cannot be used for driving or voting but plays an important role in the lives of many people in the city. This type of ID is called a municipal ID, and it is specific to the City of Milwaukee.
“Most of the people coming in for these are undocumented folks, from other countries, and that’s why we are doing that,” said James Cooney, license division manager for the City Clerk’s Office.
Voces de la Frontera, a nonprofit that fights for immigrant and civil rights, “pushed and led the way for these IDs at a time when only 11 other cities in the country offered them,” said Primitivo Torres, deputy director of operations at Voces.
“The municipal IDs, although not a replacement for the driver’s licenses, are vital for our communities,” said Torres. “With these IDs, people are able to do the basic of the basics, such as pick up their medicine from the pharmacies.”
A range of other city agencies require some form of ID, whether it’s “interacting with the police department or something as simple as going to the dump,” Cooney said.
The list of basic services that require some form of ID also often includes obtaining food at a pantry or staying at a shelter.
From January 2017 to October 2022, the city issued 8,619 municipal IDs.
There is a $10 fee for municipal IDs. Proof of residency and identity are also needed, but the range of options for providing this proof is wider than for other forms of ID. Proof of identity via one of the traditional forms of identification such as driver’s license and passports will suffice but applicants lacking these can use two of other forms of identification. These include a foreign birth certificate, a national identification card, a taxpayer ID number and a student ID card
“The whole goal of the program is to not disqualify people from it,” Cooney said. “If someone cannot meet the residency and identity requirements, we will consider whatever you can bring.”