Focus On

Windsor student group helps homeless with ID Project

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 @ 11:04 AM | By Carolyn Gruske

Having valid identification documents — such as a birth certificate, health card or provincial photo ID — is vital for anybody wanting to access government services, or even to perform the basic tasks of finding a job or a place to live. Many people who are living on the streets, however, are no longer in possession of their ID, which further disenfranchises them from society.

The Windsor Law Chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) is looking to rectify that situation and to help the homeless obtain all of the identification they require.

Beginning on Oct. 25, and taking place on every other Wednesday evening between 5 and 8, the students will be at the Downtown Mission of Windsor running an ID clinic. Dubbed the Windsor ID Project, the students, who are under the supervision of volunteer lawyers, will assist the mission’s clients in filling out the necessary forms to obtain their government-issued ID. And thanks to a $1,000 grant from the Windsor faculty of law, the students will be able to pay the fees necessary to obtain some of the identification cards (such as Ontario photo ID cards and birth certificates).

Shawn Stewart, program co-ordinator for PBSC’s Windsor law chapter, developed the Windsor ID Project. He based the project after programs run by PBSC chapters at Osgoode Hall and especially at Queen's University. He has high, but realistic hopes for the project.

“My goal is that a couple of people get their IDs and they go out and get the proper health care they need or get into some sort of housing. Maybe, all of the sudden, they don’t need the services of the mission anymore. Or maybe they gain some sort of employment through this. And then tell their friends — tell those who are struggling like them — ‘this works and this isn’t one of those things that are set up just to give you the the runaround. You’re actually getting ID.’ ”

The program goes as far as having mission staff escort ID applicants to a nearby Service Ontario location if they need the type of identification which requires the applicant to apply in person. The mission will also act as an agency on behalf of its homeless clients and allow them to use the mission’s address as their home address when filling out forms.

According to Stewart, there is one more service the mission offers: it will keep copies of all of the identification so that in case of future ID loss, its homeless clients won't be starting from scratch when they need to replace their identification. He insisted the copies will be held and stored securely.

At this point, Stewart has no idea how many people are expected to use the ID Project’s services. Tracking that data is one of the goals of the project — the Windsor PBSC wants to develop an understanding of how many homeless people need not just help with their ID but with other legal services.

“One of the big parts of the project is referrals — legal and social referrals,” explained Stewart.

“A lot of people are going to come up and hear there is a law student and see there is a lawyer on hand and they’re going to have other questions. A lot of the times these people who we are giving access to IDs, they don’t have access to these sorts of services either.

“The law students will be able to help with any informative stuff giving referrals, giving our brochures for referrals, showing them when they start asking questions: ‘here is the place you can go ask that question.’ And we have the lawyer on hand who can maybe even give a little bit of advice and explain what these referrals are for and how they are going to help them.

“It’s pairing the ID Project, which is such a huge part of access to justice, and getting [the homeless] access to all the amenities everybody else has access to, which is the first step in getting anybody back on their feet.”

For the current school year, Stewart said two law students, Claudia Tsang and Nicholas Harris, are assigned to work on the project and two lawyers, Stephen Marentette of Bartlet & Richardes LLP and Andrew Eckart of Eckart Mediation Inc., who will supervise the students while working at the mission.

Stewart added that this year, Windsor’ PBSC chapter is running enough projects to have assignments for 113 students (which was up from 85 the previous year), but unfortunately, he had 213 applications.

“One of my goals when I applied for the position of program co-ordinator was to keep building on Windsor Law’s success in the PBSC program and to make more projects and give more students chances,” he said.

He also wants “to create long-term projects that stick around after I’m gone because the real goal is to help this community long after I’ve done my service at the law school — so somebody keeps continuing to build on it and make it better and keep helping this community any way they can.”