One evening in April as financial planner Phillip Henry headed home from work, he saw a man under an Interstate 4 overpass with a sign: “I’m trying to get a job.”
The man was clean-shaven, neatly dressed and smiling. Henry pulled over and rolled down his window to find out why someone who looked so employable had to resort to roadside begging.
It turned out the man was homeless and didn’t have a birth certificate, which meant he couldn’t get identification. And that meant he couldn’t apply for a job.
“I could personally relate,” Henry said. “I had my own issues with identification a few years ago, and even with a master’s degree and friends who are attorneys, it took me weeks to straighten out. So I gave him a card. …”
Henry, it turned out, serves on the board of IDignity, which just received $100,000 in funding from the Orange County Tax Collector’s Office and the Florida Legislature — a first for the 9-year-old charity. IDignity helps people get birth certificates, Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and other legal documents that let them navigate society.
On Friday, as IDignity formally announced its new funding, it also showed off a birth certificate for the man from under the overpass — 33-year-old Tony Johnson. With IDignity’s help, he was able to get the document, apply for a Florida driver’s license and, immediately afterward, apply for a job.
Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, who helped secure $50,000 from the Legislature, said he is a believer in the program and would like to see it expand to other Florida communities.
“While it really does help Central Florida,” he said, “the challenge for me was to show this is replicable around the state — because there are a lot of able-bodied people who would love to be working but they don’t have ID. And the first step is to prove you are who you say you are.”
Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said the charity — staffed largely by volunteers — actually helps his office by tackling complicated cases that he doesn’t have the staff to handle. The first thing he did after taking office in 2013 was waive fees for all IDignity clients.
“It costs $250 and four volunteer hours, on average, to assist each client,” said Michael Dippy, IDignity’s executive director. “Some cases can take two to three years to resolve.”
Tony Johnson’s case took about three weeks. Homeless on and off since he was 13, he hopes his new documents will be a turning point.
“It has been a long journey,” he said, “But I just have to keep trying. I just don’t want to be a loser.”