Ubiñas: Philly's homeless struggle to get IDs
With fee increases, a local organization struggles to help homeless get IDs.
What is that, a few Pumpkin Spice lattes? A decent lunch somewhere?
Whatever it is, it isn't much for a lot of us. But for the hundreds who line up on a worn patch of grass across the street from Family Court every Monday afternoon, it's enough to keep them stuck in cycles of homelessness, addiction and poverty.
For years, Adam Bruckner, who runs the nonprofit Philly Restart, was able to hand individuals, most of them homeless, a check to PennDOT for $13.50 to get an identification card that helps them rebuild their lives. With an ID, they can get housing, a job, cash a check, vote - pretty much everything they need to begin to move forward.
But then, in April, PennDOT increased the fee to $27.50, and Bruckner had some decisions to make. He could cover the full amount with about $50,000 in donations and help fewer people. Or he could continue to pay the $13.50 (now half the cost) and help as many people who show up each week.
"They are grateful, but what I'm essentially saying is, 'Hey, you're pretty good at hustling up money, so go hustle up the rest, however you know how.' "
On a recent Monday, even in a steadily increasing rain, more than 100 people lined up for the checks that Bruckner starts handing out at 4 p.m.
When Bruckner told me that the line for IDs is longer than the line for food, I wondered by how much.
A lot, it turns out. The first guy in line, he got here about noon, he tells me once I assure him that I just want to talk, not cut the line. And it was just minutes before he had plenty of company.
And when Bruckner told me that as far as he knew no one else was offering this service, I couldn't believe it. But everyone in line had letters from various city organizations - including shelters, rehabs, youth organizations and halfway houses - that essentially said the same thing: Go see Adam. He'll help.
Jamel Blackwell, who's been in a recovery program for two months, said he walked miles to get to the Parkway. He was eyeing the food line, but he didn't move from his spot. "I need this ID first."
Down the line, men and women told similar stories. They were homeless. They were unemployed. They were in recovery or just out of prison. Some had lost their ID, others said they were stolen in shelters or on the streets. One woman, who said she had a job, had recently been robbed.
"You can't do anything without an ID," Camille Farlow said. "You're nobody, you're nowhere without one. And if you don't have the money to get one, you stay that way."
It's been a long journey for Bruckner, who came to the city to play for the now-defunct Philadelphia Kixx professional soccer team with lots of preconceived notions about the homeless - namely that they just needed to get a job. But that was before he befriended men and women on the streets, before he started handing out sandwiches and volunteering at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission, in North Philadelphia, and Pastor Matt Gallashaw showed him "that homelessness isn't just a large issue, but one made up of many individuals who needed to be cared for individually."
And so each Monday, for 12 years, Bruckner and other volunteers have given homeless men and women a helping hand, with a bite to eat and a small check to help them get on the right path.
"I know I am not in control of their destiny, but I know that giving them this opportunity really helps them to do well," he said.