Free birth certificates help Sacramento’s homeless find housing, register for school

Davida Gomez hugs her son, William Swilley, 5, who shows a little separation anxiety before going to class at the Mustard Seed School on Tuesday.
Davida Gomez hugs her son, William Swilley, 5, who shows a little separation anxiety before going to class at the Mustard Seed School on Tuesday. lsterling@sacbee.con

Life is a day-to-day proposition for Davida Gomez and her three children. They sleep at friends’ houses. The kids attend the Mustard Seed School at the Loaves & Fishes homeless services charity downtown.

Gomez, 31, has been homeless for five months, ever since she left her former boyfriend. She would like to find a place to live and enroll the children in regular public school again. But first she needs official birth certificates that she can use with potential employers, landlords and schools.

On Tuesday, Gomez filled out paperwork that – thanks to a new state law – will allow her to obtain the crucial documents for free from the Sacramento County Recorder’s Office.

Normally, each copy of a birth certificate would cost $28. It’s money Gomez can’t easily spare, since she lives on $785 a month in public assistance. “This situation is very tough, and any help is big help,” she said.

Effective July 1, AB 1733 requires county recorders to issue free birth certificates to any person who demonstrates he or she is homeless. On Jan. 1, the law also will require the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a free original or replacement identification card to anyone who can verify homelessness. The DMV now charges $26 for an original identification card and $8 for individuals that qualify for certain low income public assistance programs.

A homeless service provider can verify the person’s status as homeless.

John Bauters, policy director of Housing California, said his organization conceived of the bill to help homeless people access basic services. Without documentation, most homeless shelters in Sacramento will not allow people to enter or participate in assistance programs.

“The irony is that programs are created to serve people of the lowest means but actually create barriers,” he said.

In 2013, California had about 136,000 homeless people, said Maya Wallace, spokeswoman for Sacramento Steps Forward, which coordinates homeless services and funding in the Sacramento region. A snapshot count of the homeless conducted on one night in January 2013 found 2,538 people in Sacramento County who lacked permanent housing.

Wallace said she thinks the new law will speed up the process of helping people find housing by providing free and easy access to forms of identification.

“It is just one less impediment in getting into housing,” Wallace said. “It sets off a cascade of other documents and enables them to avail themselves of income that we can then use to help them find housing.”

Joan Burke, director of advocacy for Loaves & Fishes, applauded the new law. The organization does not require identification from the hundreds of people who use its services or receive free meals. Its affiliated Maryhouse daytime shelter for women and children helps homeless women apply for birth certificates and ID cards.

“It is a concrete way of helping families get into a home,” Burke said.

Jennifer Crane: 916-321-1161, @Jenn_Crane