LOS ANGELES — It may be hard to imagine getting emotional over a birth certificate, but a lack of documentation has been holding back Al Daniel for 16 years, ever since he discovered he would need an original copy to get a California ID.
What You Need To Know
- Foster kids have trouble keeping official documents after they age out of the system, according to Erika Hartman with Safe Place for Youth
- A grassroots volunteer is helping Al Daniel get his birth certificate so he can get a California ID
- By age 23, one in four former California foster care youth experience homelessness, according to a 2021 University of Chicago study
- It also found Black youth were significantly more likely to find themselves with no place to live but the street
Spectrum News first interviewed Daniel in November, when he showed the encampment he called home and explained his mission to regain custody of his kids.
“Once I get the things that I need and do what I need to do, I’m very sure that I’ll be able to see them again,” he said.
In the following months, Daniel has continued working to get back on his feet but has been stonewalled by his lack of documentation. He was born in Queens County, New York, which requires his mother’s date of birth before sending a certified copy of his birth certificate. Daniel grew up in foster care and never learned his mom’s birthdate.
Without the birth certificate, Daniel can’t get a state issued ID required to cash a check, open a bank account or rent an apartment.
Miles away at a sweep in downtown Los Angeles, another woman experiencing homelessness, who asked to simply be called Amy, told Spectrum News she has a similar problem. A name change while in foster care has hampered her ability to get the California ID she needs to move into housing. Without it, she can’t help but live on the street.
“It doesn’t matter how much money I have, I couldn’t rent a hotel room, and I couldn’t rent an apartment,” Amy said.
By age 23, one in four former California foster care youth experience homelessness, according to a 2021 University of Chicago study. It also found Black youth were significantly more likely to find themselves with no place to live but the street.
Former foster kids make up about 36% of clients at Safe Place for Youth, a Venice-based nonprofit that helps get young people off the streets and into housing. Executive Director Erika Hartman said about half of them arrive missing important documents.
“We actually have dedicated staff who are focused to get young folks ‘document ready,’” Hartman said.
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While the state has made it easier for advocates to obtain and store digital copies of documentation, the DMV requires original copies that are easily lost or even destroyed as people age out of the system.
While Daniel is now staying at one of LA’s new Tiny Home Villages, he credits a grassroots volunteer with doing the complicated leg work to get his birth certificate.
“Daniel wants to work. He’s smart. He’s able-bodied. He isn’t able to get a paycheck because he doesn’t have an ID. It just doesn’t make sense to me,” said the volunteer, Dani, who asked to only be identified by her first name.
Dani recently found a pro-bono lawyer who is willing to help. It’s the first step to helping Daniel get a job, an apartment and his kids.
“I want to be able to be in my kid’s life,” Daniel said. “That’s all I want. And be a good father. I feel like there’s no way I can do that without a little plastic card.”