How can the homeless apply for Mass ID?

After my Mass ID expired, I researched online and found out that I needed a birth certificate to renew my ID. This took me to my hometown of New York City, where I visited the Department of Health’s Vital Records Office. It was  there that I received help to complete an online application. I received a certificated copy of my birth certificate in 75 minutes for the price of $18. When I got back to Massachusetts, I organized my birth certificate and other documents following the Registrar of Motor Vehicle’s Documents Checklist guide, which details the paperwork you need before visiting.

After filling out the Check List form and handing it to a Watertown RMV clerk,  I was processed promptly in a group of 60 people. At the same time, I found the RMV was curt with questions and shuffled people around. I bought 10 sets of identification documents for the Federal Real ID. I had a medicare statement rejected. They were clamoring for a W2 which I could not provide since I am a independent contractor at Spare Change News. I provided a bank statement and Social Security card and got out in 50 minutes. This was efficient, yet there were drawbacks.

Namely they refused to accept a medicare statement and the new photo was shot with a camera system requiring you to sit a chair 10 to 15 feet away from the camera. There were no prompts when the photo was captured and you were allowed only two attempts. I was charged $25 for a poorly captured photo. I received my Real- ID in four days, compared to the 7 to 10 business days as RMV suggested.

People who experience homelessness, prison, domestic violence or have a disability

might not have all the documents required. These individuals may need outside help such as a social or case worker to organize all the documents needed and then fill out the Mass ID form.

According to Judith Reardon Riley, Massachusetts Department of Transportation

Communications Office, the Register of Motors Vehicles has created an affidavit for those homeless, or who do not have permanent residency and are receiving housing services from an official institution, shelter program. This one page document is to be completed by the individual and the organization providing housing services.

According to, Reardon, this format has replaced the case manager and streamlined the process making it easier to verify important information like the individual’s name, housing status and Social Security Card number.

“When the form is completed by the individual and supporting agency, the individual is eligible to receive a Standard Massachusetts resident identification card,” Reardon said. This is also known as Mass ID.

Reardon pointed out that there is a $25 fee for the card. “There are human service and advocacy organizations that will work with individual to help cover the cost,” she said.

One such organization is St. Francis House, which has created a program to help homeless get a new Mass ID. They  ask that the homeless individual come meet with one of their social workers and bring  any documentation they have. The social worker will help them fill out the form and give them a voucher to take to RMV to get the Mass ID.

Reardon highlighted that people experiencing homelessness who have never been issued a license or ID will need to provide a series of documents.

“This would include a birth certificate to provide proof lawful presences in Massachusetts and social security Number that would be verified by the Social Security Administration,” Reardon said. “They would also need to provide proof of residence that could be satisfied with the Affidavit of residency.”

Congress passed the Federal Real ID Act in 2005,  which has been modified since then regarding security, authentication and issuance standards for drivers licenses, ID cards and immigration issues. This law was created to combat terrorist infiltration and improve national security by creating a new ID card program which required each state to update its drivers license software.

The Department of Homeland Security, implemented the Real ID Act in three phases between 2014-2015 with the final phase covering air travel domestically  carried out on January 6, 2016 and full enforcement with extensions in January 22, 2018.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles in Massachusetts  started to issue ID cards in March 2018 that meet with the guidelines and comply with the Real ID Act. Starting in October, 2020 citizens will need Real ID to board airplanes and enter federal buildings.






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