Volunteer Attorneys Help Indigent Philadelphians Get Government ID

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Dozens of lawyers today volunteered their time to help homeless people (and those on the verge of being homeless) apply for birth certificates.

More than 200 people lined up this morning at Peco headquarters, at 23rd and Market Streets in center city, waiting to speak to one of about 60 volunteer lawyers who would help them file an application to get a birth certificate.

“An attorney can send away for a birth certificate for somebody if they don’t have ID to prove who they are,” explains Marsha Cohen, executive director of the Homeless Advocacy Project.   She says the volunteer attorneys —  from Peco (the Philadelphia electric utility) and area law firms — allowed the small nonprofit group to have a massive reach by helping those in need take the first step toward getting valid government identification.

“People need photo ID pretty much to access any kind of benefits or service in the city,” she notes.   “If you even want to walk into an office building in center city, you need a photo ID to even get in the door.”

Birth certificates are also required to enroll in most school programs and to get subsidized housing.

“It’s important because I need it for housing, (and for) paying bills,” said Yolanda (no last name given), who stood in the line with her son.  She needs a new ID and could not afford it.

“Birth certificates are, like, $20,” she says.  “Sometimes, when you’re homeless, you need extra help getting the things you need — and this event right here is a very big help.”

This is the twelfth year that Peco has organized this event.

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