Thunder Bay

Kinna-Aweya legal clinic creates ID bank in Thunder Bay

A new service launching this month in Thunder Bay will provide a safe place to store legal identification papers for people who don't have stable housing.

Safe storage for legal identification papers critical to access government services

Beth Ponka, the director of administration at Kinna-Aweya legal clinic in Thunder Bay, says people without adequate housing often have their identification lost or stolen. (Adam Burns/CBC)

A new service launching this month in Thunder Bay will provide a safe place to store legal identification papers for people who don't have stable housing.

Fireproof storage cabinets for documents such as birth certificates are being installed at Kinna-Aweya Legal Clinic and at Shelter House on Tuesday. 

"A lot of people are inadequately housed and so they are more transient and their belongings are more vulnerable to loss or theft, and sometimes women and children are fleeing domestic violence and don't have the opportunity to take all their belongings with them," said Beth Ponka, the legal clinic's director of administration.

"This is an alternative for people where they can sign out their document when they need it for ID purposes, but then they can sign it back in and know that it is some place safe," she said.

Without identification, people can't access most government services, Ponka said.

The problem will be exacerbated next year by a federal government plan to make all benefit payments through direct deposit, she added. Identification is also essential for opening a bank account.

'Overwhelming demand'

"We are targeting our services to people who are at risk of losing a [government] benefit," Ponka said. "That's when we're opening a file and helping a client obtain their documents."

The service has to be targeted because of the "overwhelming demand" in the city for help acquiring identification, and the legal clinic's limited resources, she said. More than 50 people showed up for Kinna-Aweya's last ID clinic in November.

People often require help filling out the forms and paying the $35 dollar fee for a new birth certificate, she said. An original birth certificate is needed to get most other government identification such as a social insurance number or health card.

Ponka said she has also seen instances of children who don't have birth certificates being denied access to school.

A meeting will be held this week with community partners, including the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy, to discuss the protocols and procedures around the storage system, she said. Much of the policy for the ID bank was copied from a similar program run by an agency called Street Health in Toronto.

Clients must consent to having their legal documents stored, and agree that they will only be accessible during office hours. The clinic agrees that if it loses touch with a client, their government-issued papers will be returned to the government.