How to Establish ID for a Homeless Person

You don’t need a permanent home to obtain a state-issued identification card. Many people assume that a permanent residence is necessary to obtain an ID card because most types of ID, like a driver’s license or passport, display the holder’s home address. However, homeless people can obtain and use identification documents without a home address. The primary benefit of having an ID card is that it easily verifies identity, which can in turn make it possible to access social services, apply for a job or an apartment and to open a bank account.

The Pitfalls of Being Homeless with No ID

Without an ID, you’re unable to access many of the public services that can keep you healthy and safe. Nearly anything you can do to protect and provide for yourself, like applying for public benefits to help you rent an apartment and seeking medical attention for an illness, requires that you verify your identity with a valid government ID.

In some cases, you need a valid ID to enter a government building. If you have an appointment or meeting in one of these buildings, but no ID, you cannot attend your appointment. You also need an ID to fly on an airplane, obtain a public library card and cash checks.

Read More: Can Homeless People Obtain a Drivers License?

Types of ID

When most people think of ID, they think of a driver’s license. Though this certainly is one type of ID you can obtain, it’s not the only one. Other types of ID are:

  • government-issued ID card
  • military ID card
  • social security card
  • passport

How Can a Homeless Person Get an ID?

The exact process of obtaining a state identification card varies from state to state. To find out how to get an ID in your state, visit your local DMV or visit your state’s DMV website.

If you have your birth certificate, this should be enough to obtain an ID because it is a valid way to prove your identity and obtain an ID. If you don’t have a copy of your birth certificate, you can obtain one from the local Department of Health or the Vital Records office in the state in which you were born.

Other documents you may be able to use to obtain a state-issued ID are:

  • your Social Security card
  • insurance cards
  • school enrollment record
  • arrest record
  • voter registration record
  • Native American tribal ID document
  • some immigration documents, such as a "green card"

To get an ID, you must prove that you’re a resident of your state. In some states, you can use a receipt from a motel or campground to establish your residency and obtain ID. In most states, letters from homeless shelters attesting to an ID applicant's local residence are sufficient to establish residency. When you visit your local DMV or speak with a representative online or on the phone, ask which documents are acceptable for establishing residency in your state.

In order to obtain an ID card, you may be required to fill out forms and pay a fee. In some states, this fee is waived if you earn less than a specific income amount.


  • It can be difficult to establish an ID without at least one ID document, like a birth certificate or Social Security card. You can get these documents from either your local Department of Health or Social Security office.

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