Oct-22-2013

Identity Theft

When we think of identity theft, we usually think of someone stealing our credit card number or social security number, leaving us in a position of explaining how we never purchased those ten iPads online or worse didn’t take out that $10,000 home equity loan. These are nightmares to be sure, but there are worse kinds of identity theft.

During outreach with The Relief Bus, one of the most common sad stories I hear is when a homeless person is robbed of their identification. While they catch a nap and are vulnerable, someone slips away with their belongings. This can be catastrophic for someone living on the edge. Without ID, they are unable to work or receive benefits. It can take lots of time, money and bureaucratic finagling to obtain a new birth certificate, social security card and picture ID.

I myself discovered when I decided to live homeless for a few days in New York City, that if I was found sleeping on the train without ID I could even be arrested. Imagine being locked up in a scary cell with a bunch of criminals just because you didn’t have a simple card with your photo on it!

Some homeless people are more vulnerable than others. One friend of ours is in a wheelchair and regularly gets beat up and robbed. Several other friends are plagued with epilepsy, and are robbed when they have seizures.

One man that I met during an outreach in the South Bronx was a victim of violent crime. He was slashed to the point of being hospitalized for months. In the process of the attack, his passport was stolen. He was terrified of being caught without ID and getting deported, even though he was a legal immigrant. We contacted his embassy and helped him get an appointment to have his passport replaced. He was so relieved to get proof of his legal status.

Another friend that we helped get off of the streets and off of drugs was overwhelmed with excitement when he got ID. It was like he was an official person again, no longer invisible to society.


Laticia (left) was from Oklahoma. She found herself stranded and homeless in New Jersey. Her identity had been stolen and she was stuck. New York City Relief Staff helped get her a bus ticket to reunite with her sister in Nashville!

There is yet another form of identity theft. When the poor are condescended to, treated roughly and not respected, they lose their dignity. When people aren’t treated as valuable, they are robbed of their identity of being human. When someone is treated as less than human enough times, they stop acting human. People can descend to an animalistic state of survival instinct, dull in heart and mind. They become programmed to live at a base level, because that is what they think they deserve. These are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers made in the image of God.

Many of my friends who live on the streets refuse to sleep in public shelters or drop-in centers, because of the way people are treated there. All that they have left is their dignity and they cannot afford to lose that too. New York City Relief is committed to helping people recover their identity as precious, important people. To God and to us, they are treasures. We help many people to recover their physical ID’s, but more importantly we work to restore each individual’s identity as a valuable person. A kind word, a listening ear, and a prayer go a long way to letting someone know that they matter. Come join us on the streets sometime and help restore someone’s stolen identity, you might even find yours restored in the process.


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