Thunder Bay

New ID bank in Thunder Bay, Ont., keeps ID papers safe for vulnerable people

A fire-proof safe in a back office at the Kinna-aweya legal clinic in Thunder Bay, Ont. could help hundreds of vulnerable people in the city keep their housing, access food banks or go to school, according to the woman in charge of that safe.

Lack of government ID is a barrier to housing, education, even food banks, ID bank coordinator says

'We've had people who become homeless simply because they don't have ID," says Awenen Niin ID Bank coordinator Cheyanne DeGagne. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A fire-proof safe in a back office at the Kinna-aweya legal clinic in Thunder Bay, Ont. could help hundreds of vulnerable people in the city keep their housing, access food banks or go to school, according to the woman in charge of that safe.

Cheyanne Degagne is the coordinator of the Awenen Niin ID bank, which held its grand opening on Friday.

The plan to acquire a safe and develop policies to store government identification for vulnerable people came from the stories that staff at the legal clinic were hearing from clients, Degagne said.

"You need ID to get almost anything, to apply for Ontario Works; to get your social insurance number to get employment; to register your children for school, you need ID," Degagne said. "Even just to go to the food bank, a lot of them are requiring ID now."

Kinna-aweya, which provides poverty law services in Thunder Bay, started running clinics to help people apply for identification in 2012.

About 700 people have used the service, but not everyone had a safe place to store their new identification, and few could afford a safety deposit box at a bank, DeGagne said.

"They leave, and soon after their ID is lost," she said. 

The consequences can be dire. Landlords who receive payment through social housing programs require government identification from their tenants.

Lost ID leads to eviction

"We've had clients who have been evicted because without their ID they haven't been able to find a new job or receive Ontario Works," she said. "So we've had people who become homeless simply because they don't have ID."

One couple who was evicted from social housing under those circumstances had their children taken by a child welfare agency because the family was homeless, according to Kinna-aweya's director of administration.

Degagne spent the summer developing policies and protocols for the safe storage and secure access of the government-issued identification documents.  

Bay Credit Union donated a safe it was no longer using to Awenen Niin, to meet the required standards. 

Awenen Niin means 'Who am I?' in Ojibwe.

Some of the people who require help with identification are First Nations elders whose births were either incorrectly registered many years ago, or not registered at all, Degagne said.

Clients of the ID bank have access to their identification anytime the legal clinic is open. The service is free.

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