Patients advocate for easier access to obtain identification
By Whitney Buchmann
For most people, having a state-issued ID or driver’s license is not only important for mobility and safety on the road, but is critical to getting health insurance, social services and even cashing paychecks. On September 6, three Camden Coalition program participants, accompanied by two of our staff, rallied with residents from across New Jersey in front of the State House in Trenton to show support for a bill expanding access to driver’s licenses to more residents.
The bill was created to expand access to licenses to qualified drivers, many of whom have life circumstances that do not allow them to meet the documentation requirements for a license in New Jersey. This was a familiar frustration shared by our patients — Jamal, Miguel, and Vincent (known to his friends as “Country”) — who offered their own stories about making multiple visits to state offices and contacting out-of-state relatives to get enough proof of identification to obtain an ID. Miguel spoke with a reporter from NJ Spotlight:
Miguel Rodriguez, 56, from Camden said this law would help people like him — former prison inmates who are now homeless.
“To get a license, you need all these points of identification, an address or a bill or bank statement. I just came out of prison. I don’t have any of that,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t have a place to live. I am homeless. I had two forms of ID, the ID that they give you from prison, which is good for 30 days, and I also had my social security and birth certificate that I had to pay for and send out orders for, and my release paper. And they still turned me down … The system is messed up.”
Rodriguez said he had to make several calls and trips to various governmental offices to advocate for himself and eventually worked his way to achieving a license. He said he’s now committed to making the path easier for others.
The Camden Coalition has worked with the Let’s Drive NJ Campaign to share insight and feedback from our care teams about the process of getting identification. Certain documents have been particularly useful to patients who have experienced homelessness, incarceration, or domestic violence. Documents like jail IDs, expired IDs, and notarized letters from homeless shelters could potentially be used to meet new requirements to obtain a state ID or driver’s license. Details of the bill are still being negotiated, but it is in our patients’ best interests to expand the list of acceptable documents.
Participating in an event like this was a first for Jamal, Miguel, and Country, who all insisted on being invited to future opportunities to give back. The Camden Coalition’s community engagement team has been working with our care teams to meet patients graduating from the clinical intervention or who have experienced more stability since being housed through Housing First. The effort is intended to create opportunities for patients to stay engaged and help actively transform the systems that impacted their own health journeys. This rally was a space for Jamal, Miguel, and Country to give voice to their experiences in hopes of impacting change where no one is left out of being able to fully participate in our communities.
The Camden Coalition would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the community leaders and organizations who have laid the foundation for such an initiative, convened the rally, and continue to organize the Let’s Drive NJ campaign. We look forward to an ongoing partnership to successfully improve our communities’ ability to get critical documentation. You can learn more about the issue and how to get involved here.