An unhoused veteran, managing chronic medical conditions, loses identification in a tent sweep and faces an uphill battle to access prescription medications.
A mother and child, fleeing domestic violence, leave personal documents behind and struggle with bureaucratic delays to secure stable housing and enroll in a new school.
After an emergency hospitalization, a person discovers their ID was stolen during the ordeal and finds it difficult to access follow-up healthcare services or insurance benefits.
Drawn from the harsh realities encountered on the frontlines of our social care system, these scenarios depict the challenge of accessing basic resources without personal identification. The absence of such critical documents doesn’t just mean an inability to access housing, healthcare, food programs, public benefits, and employment; it often translates into an invisibility trap, a never-ending cycle of hardships, bureaucratic red tape, and missed opportunities, all of which perpetuate poverty and homelessness.
One Degree has been monitoring the impact of personal ID requirements on community members for several years. Informed by feedback and discussions with our community and healthcare partners, including the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, we built the Document Locker, a HIPAA-compliant secure storage feature, into our platform. This feature enables our registered community members to save and store sensitive documents, using photos taken with their phones or by having a caseworker scan and then upload them securely. One Degree community members using the feature not only store personal identification, but also utility bills, income verification, food stamps, medical information, and other essential records.
Importantly, we designed this feature to ensure that individuals retain full control of their documents—members can view who has access to individual documents and can revoke access at any time. Our aim with the Document Locker is to reduce the effects of documentation loss, theft, or damage and enable community members to share their personal information with more ease and control.
However, a year into the pilot of the Document Locker, we see the scale of the need and a bigger issue more clearly: millions of people nationwide lack IDs.
A June 2023 report from the California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness (CASPEH) highlighted that 52% of participants identified the lack of documents as a barrier to housing. A 2018 article published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health delved into the identification issue more deeply, reporting that the absence of valid government-issued IDs restricts access to healthcare and essential services and disproportionately impacts the following populations:
- Adults who identify as Black or Latino
- Undocumented immigrants
- Seniors, over the age of 65
- People navigating housing insecurity, homelessness, or catastrophic events
- People who identify as transgender
- Formerly incarcerated individuals
- People with annual incomes under $35,000
This raises a crucial question: How can One Degree and our partners address a predicament that can have disastrous consequences for members of marginalized communities?
We are evaluating various possibilities. Can we enhance community outreach to raise awareness about helpful technologies? Can community-based organizations encourage secure document storage without compromising privacy and trust? Can statewide and/or federal digital IDs be developed to address the issue in ways that are inclusive, equitable, and safe?
California’s Department of Technology is already developing digital IDs. In 2022, they began exploring “best practices and confirmed the approach to develop secure digital ID capability for California residents.” However, the CDT conversation so far has engaged primarily with the private sector and governmental agencies, leaving a gap in community input that could result in unforeseen and disproportionate impacts on marginalized communities.
The unfortunate reality is that a cottage industry of solutions has exploited low-income and BIPOC communities because of lack of documentation: check-cashing services, payday lenders, and fraudulent immigration assistance services, just to name a few. More ‘normalized’ identification solutions, such as ID.me, are being developed with profit in mind and can create new barriers to access by requiring challenging technology, internet access, or digital literacy that many disadvantaged people lack.
This is why when building the Document Locker or any new technology, One Degree prioritizes the privacy, safety, and agency of the communities we serve. As digital ID technologies develop further, it’s imperative that community and nonprofit voices are at the table, providing input on matters of privacy, accessibility, accountability, data security, and oversight, before digital ID becomes a fixed feature in our lives.
In collaboration with you—our community members, partners, and supporters—we want to help shape the future conversation about this issue. But to learn more and go deeper, we need to hear from you on this issue: How do ID requirements continue to impact your clients and your work? How would you like community leaders and tech innovators to help address this problem? As state and federal agencies develop and implement digital IDs, which may be necessary to access services and benefits, what are your hopes and concerns?
Let’s collectively ensure that those struggling to access social care have a significant voice in shaping the technologies that impact them the most.
Your opinion matters to us! Send us a message to share your thoughts on this urgent issue and the Document Locker innovation.