Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Simple task of getting an ID card not simple for the homeless

By Mark Brown, columnist

Eddie Bakion, better known on the streets as Red Fox, thinks he might finally be ready to leave those streets behind.

“I’m getting too old to be out here,” said Bakion, who will soon turn 65, a rough age to be homeless.

First, though, he has to get his IDs back.

There’s always some obstacle or other that seemingly blocks chronically homeless people from taking that next step in their lives toward getting a roof over their heads.

You’d be surprised how often it starts with something as simple as getting an ID card.

There’s not much any person can do these days without first being able to prove their identity, whether it’s renting a room, applying for a job or getting government assistance.

And by nature of their living circumstances, homeless people have a difficult time hanging on to their IDs, which are often lost when city cleanup crews dispose of their belongings.

Of course, there’s often a shaggy dog story involved, too.

Bakion has been talking about the need to replace his IDs since at least early May, when I first ran into him on Lower Wacker Drive while making the rounds with the Salvation Army.

We found him under his sidewalk bed roll on that chilly afternoon, a bit cranky at first about being disturbed and complaining of the frostbite in his feet.

He was in a considerably better mood when I ran into him Thursday in a steamy underground parking garage at the Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist, where the Salvation Army was coordinating an outreach event to try to connect Lower Wacker’s homeless individuals with the social service agencies that could help them.

Seeing him standing erect this time with a cup of hot coffee in his hands, I was surprised to realize Bakion is 6-foot-7. Did he ever play any basketball? Still does, he said.

For Bakion, though, all efforts to get help this day were stymied by his lack of identification.

With a letter from an agency such as the Salvation Army, a homeless person such as Bakion can get a free state ID from the Secretary of State.

But first he needs proof of his Social Security number.

And to get that, he needs his birth certificate.

In his case, that adds a layer of complication because Bakion was born in St. Paul, Minn. His mother brought him here as a youngster, and he grew up in his grandmother’s South Side home.

He says he earned the nickname Red Fox as a child for his ability to slip away from trouble.

It wasn’t until he was 27 that he learned his real first name was Everett, not Edward as he always believed.

Now he says that’s part of what slows him down on getting his IDs. He’s not really sure he wants to be known as Everett Bakion, when he’s always told people he’s Edward. People might look at him funny.

Then there’s the matter of the jobs he’s worked as Edward. He thinks he might have two Social Security numbers under the different names and fears he will lose out on some benefit.

“This has been messing me up through my life,” says Bakion, who has been homeless “off and on” since 1985.

“I get so exhausted when I’m trying to get something because I don’t know where to go,” he continues. “I have to live with both of these names until the day I die.”

Don’t get bogged down by whether this makes total sense. It’s his reality.

Bakion blames his parents for the confusion about his name. He blames them for a lot of things, and justifiably so, from the sounds of it.

He never had a relationship with his father. He lost his alcoholic mother to the streets. As a child, he was left with the responsibility of taking care of his sisters.

“I’m really angry with both of them,” Bakion says, speaking of his long-deceased parents. “That still bugs me to this day what they put me through. They got me thinking I’m cursed.”

His anger led to four stints in prison totaling 13 years before Bakion said he decided “this gotta quit.” But prison helped him “in a way,” he said, because he met so many men with family stories like his.

Bakion made a followup appointment with Christine Henry, director of homeless services for the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, to help him get those IDs. She even promised to pay for the birth certificate to get the ball rolling.

If for some reason that doesn’t work out, Bakion says he’s “going to say to hell with the ID and live the way I can.”

Winter looms, but the street keeps its grip.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST