A home for hope: Osceola County center assisting residents at poverty level

A volunteer with the Community Hope Center helps a client during a recent IDignity Osceola program. The program helps those experiencing homelessness and poverty get the assistance they need to obtain official identification.

For the people at the Community Hope Center, they know a little bit of compassion and dignity can go a long way in someone’s life.

The Community Hope Center of Osceola County hosted the IDignity Osceola event on Oct. 26.

The mission of IDignity Osceola is to create a central location where those experiencing homelessness and poverty can come get the assistance they need to obtain official identification documents like driver’s licenses, social security cards, birth certificates and more.

“It’s kind of like a one-stop shop so clients can come to one central location and get services without having to be sent all over the community to this office or that office,” said Tom Pratt, director of community and legal services.

He administers the IDignity Osceola program and helps coordinate services for clients with legal needs.

The event was held in the First Christian Church in downtown Kissimmee.

In addition to about 100 volunteers, the Community Hope Center had representatives from the Social Security Administration, Florida Department of Health and Vital Records, Veterans Administration and the Department of Children and Families. The Department of Motor Vehicles sent a mobile bus unit where IDs could be issued on sight for people who qualify.

During the October event, IDignity Osceola was able to assist a total of 143 clients, including issuing 70 IDs and 42 social security cards.

In 2010, the state of Florida adopted the REAL ID Act. In order to be eligible to be issued an ID in the state of Florida, you have to present three documents: proof of identity, proof of your social security number and proof of residence.

An implied fourth requirement of the REAL ID Act is that all names on the different documents must be the same.

 “This creates some specific problems and additional requirements for women who have been married,” noted Pratt, “or those who have errors on their records, like someone misspelling a name. This fourth requirement isn’t explicit in the statute, but it does create barriers for people trying to obtain ID.”

Often times, the fees and costs of obtaining ID or replacing missing or lost identification documents can be an additional barrier to the homeless and those living in poverty. The Community Hope Center takes care of the costs associated with obtaining an ID and for all the services provided at IDignity Osceola.

“It’s free to our clients, but not to us,” said Mary Downey, founder and director of the Community Hope Center. “But it is definitely a service we believe is of utmost importance for our community. If we can help people in need overcome that barrier and help them get back to work, that is what’s important.”

“We find that a lot of times, people want to give up because they are told by the powers-at-be that you can’t get your ID. These are people who need someone to advocate for them,” said Downey. “Having an ID gives people the opportunity to start fresh in their life and opens doors that were previously shut, like getting a job, renting a hotel room or getting their medical and pharmaceutical needs met.”

There is plenty of work the Community Hope Center does behind-the-scenes to help people get back their identification. Pratt uses his expertise in the legal field to do the extensive investigative work necessary to find the documents that prove who people are.

“There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into our client’s work,” said Pratt.

 Pratt has recovered school records of schools that have been closed for 20 years.

IDignity Osceola had a case where a man had been in foster care and his name did not follow him through the system. There was no documentation to whom he actually was and it took Pratt almost two years go through the entire process to get that individual their name back.

“The work the CHC and IDignity Osceola does every single day is to remind people they are loved and they are valued,” said Downey. “We talk about ID’s and how important they are, but to give somebody back their identity brings back so much dignity and worth to that person. It’s more than that piece of plastic. It’s about restoring people’s humanity.”

The next IDignity Osceola event will be Feb. 15, at the First Christian Church. Those interested in attending are encouraged to make a reservation through the Community Hope Center so their level of need can be evaluated.

Those looking to volunteer can sign up starting one month prior to the event at osceola.idignity.org/volunteer.