News / Vancouver

UBC law students open homeless ID clinic

Pro bono group to help low-income residents overcome a common hurdle: applying for identification.

Sugar Mountain tent city resident Dennis Deguerre walks through the site at 1131 Franklin St. in Vancouver on Aug. 17, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

Sugar Mountain tent city resident Dennis Deguerre walks through the site at 1131 Franklin St. in Vancouver on Aug. 17, 2017.

A group of University of British Columbia law students has identified a little-known barrier many homeless and low-income Vancouverites run into: getting needed government identification.

Whether the ID was lost — often because of the precarious and vulnerable status of people on the streets — or simply never existed before, it's a challenge that can pose a hurdle to applying for jobs, accessing some services or voting.

"For the average person, losing ID is a hassle," explained the clinic's founders, the UBC chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada, in a statement Monday. "For Vancouver’s most marginalized, it is devastating."

The once-a-week free Homeless ID Clinic opened its doors in the Downtown Eastside on Monday, at the Powell Street Getaway. The clinic is made up of law students from UBC's Allard School of Law, alongside lawyers from the firm Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.

“Without ID, folks can’t exercise their basic human rights," said third-year UBC law student Carly Stanhope, the clinic's co-leader, in a statement. "No ID often means no medical care, housing, legal help, or detox access."

Among the reasons it's so hard to hold on to ID on the streets of Vancouver include having their belongings stolen while they're sleeping or accessing services, thrown in the garbage by authorities if their possessions are seized, or unreturned wallets if they're released from police custody, the students explained.

The problem, however, is that many identification documents are tough to get without a home address, mailing address, or for people with difficulties seeing or reading.

The new ID clinic will see four law students and two lawyers "sit down with clients to complete applications," and allow them to use The Getaway's mailing address — even helping transport participants to various offices to submit their paperwork or get required photographs taken.

"The students’ vision for the clinic is about more than just ID, though," the group stated. "It’s about reminding people that they matter."

The Homeless ID Clinic is free to anyone living on the streets or "marginally housed," and will held once-a-week every Monday at the Powell Street Getaway (formerly the Living Room Activity Drop-in Centre, at 528 Powell St.).

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