The province hopes new Alberta ID measures will help the homeless.
Katy Anderson/the gauntlet

Homeless to be able to acquire ID more easily

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Controversy and debate arose over a March 28, 2010 Calgary Herald article claiming that the Alberta government was working on biometric ID cards that could include fingerprint and facial scan samples for the homeless in the city.

"Those who are homeless should not be treated any differently from those who are not," said John Graham, University of Calgary professor of community economic development. His position reflected what many agencies have stated since the article was released.

However, members involved in the biometric ID discussions wished to clarify the details.

"There are no plans or proposals to add any other biometric measures," said Berezowsky, denying the claims of implementing fingerprint technology and its itinerant privacy concerns.

Actual changes made by Service Alberta include allowing another person, such as a social worker, to vouch for the applicant's identity. Also, proxy addresses such as homeless shelters are now valid on the identification cards.

"The card itself is identical to the one you or I could get," said Barbara Korol, housing and urban affairs director of communications. "What's changed is the method of verification of identity that occurs."

"I did have some difficulties," said Nigel Kirk, who was faced with homelessness when he was 22 and struggled to obtain identification.

At the time, Kirk relied on Calgary Legal Guidance and Project Homeless Connect services to provide him with notarized affidavits for identification. However, these documents are still not government issued, and therefore not eligible in many institutions and social services.

"I had [to get] staff from the Mustard Seed to advocate it and push it through," said Kirk. While places like the Mustard Seed can verify with agencies that clients are using their services, they realistically can only help around 10 clients a day, said Kirk.

"We are not looking at new ID cards for homeless people," said Mike Berezowsky, Service Alberta's assistant director of communications. "There are no formal proposals out of the committee yet."

Berezowsky explained that current Alberta ID cards and driver's licenses have for years used biometrics in the form of facial recognition technology. Licence or ID photos are routinely run against other photos in the motor vehicle database for cross reference.

"We're part of a cross-ministry committee looking at ways to make it easier for homeless people to get the existing government ID, because it's often needed for things like obtaining a bank account," said Berezowsky.

The Calgary Herald article also mentioned the frequency with which the homeless lose their ID cards, but the main goal is making it easier to obtain one in the first place. Once the ID is in the system, it will be easier to reissue a replacement, said Korol.