Free birth records for people experiencing homelessness, under new state law advocated by CCH

A new state law to provide free birth certificates for people experiencing homelessness is another example of “access to records” advocacy by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

A similar measure enacted by the Cook County Board covers homeless people as well as residents of domestic violence shelters and people released from incarceration within the previous 90 days. The county ordinance was effective upon adoption in April. The statewide measure will take effect January 1, 2018.

Access to one’s birth certificate is a key issue for many who are homeless, particularly unaccompanied youth living on their own.  

Many county clerk’s offices charge a $15 fee for a copy of a birth record, which is used to acquire other legal IDs, including a state ID card.

CCH advocates met last fall with State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Cook County Clerk David Orr to discuss no-charge birth certificates for homeless people. Mr. Orr’s office pledged to sponsor a county ordinance, and to be a lead advocate in Springfield on legislation sponsored by Rep. Guzzardi.

Rep. Guzzardi’s House Bill 3060 passed the General Assembly with overwhelming bi-partisan support in June. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the measure September 15.

“We thank David Orr and Will Guzzardi for their leadership on this important issue,” said Patricia Nix-Hodes, director of the CCH Law Project.

A service provider must sign a statement verifying the applicant’s homeless status, under both the Cook County ordinance and new state law.

CCH advocacy was led by Policy Specialist Niya Kelly and Youth Health Attorney Graham Bowman. A year earlier, Mr. Bowman persuaded the the clerk’s office to amend its policy of not allowing attorneys to obtain birth certificates for minors. The county then required a parent’s authorization. After learning about the thousands of unaccompanied minors in Chicago and suburban Cook County, Mr. Orr’s office agreed to amend its policy in May 2016.

The Law Project and Youth Futures mobile legal clinic assist more than 200 homeless clients a year obtain their birth records. In 2016, CCH represented 163 youths and 40 adult clients, covering $4,188 in fees.

Elsewhere, homeless applicants struggle to pay such fees. Service providers already struggling through the state budget crisis were unable to help cover that expense.

Illinois state ID cards have been free for homeless people since 2010. Applications also require a verification. About 10,000 state ID cards are provided annually to homeless Illinoisans, most of which are issued in Cook County.

– Anne Bowhay, Media