To ID or not to ID? That is the Question. What Would Jesus Do?

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.

And what about background checks?
Who helps the homeless without any identification? It’s a conversation that needs to occur, because lack of identification is a reoccurring challenge faced by homeless people.

Joy Junction asks for identification, but works with those who don’t have it to help them obtain the identification they need. We also work with other agencies in Albuquerque to help people obtain ID.

Then what about background checks? We do them on guests to ensure that there is no recent history of violence. Sometimes this means that a person can’t stay with us due to a recent run in with the law.

We hate turning people away, but we have to balance compassion for one person with the safety of the entire Joy Junction community. The issue is not easy as might be initially thought.

So should shelters allow people to stay who have no identification? Why or why not? I posed that question recently on Facebook to our friends and fans, and got a flood of responses.

Molly made it very clear where she stands. It sounded like she didn’t want background checks, identification, or anything else.

She wrote, “If you claim to offer shelter, why should there be ANY guidelines? People need help. They need support. It isn’t by begging for cash on corners, but by shelter offering real HELP that will get those people off the streets”

That’s a nice idea, Molly, but no guidelines? Not really feasible. We try and be as understanding as possible, but without guidelines, we could end up, say, sheltering sex offender or those with a history of violence which while they need help, would be inappropriate for us as a family shelter to do.

Look at the charges we found recently after running a background check on one applicant wanting to stay at Joy Junction. Under his Metro Court file we found, “Armed robbery, intentional child abuse, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit murder and battery.”

So did this person need a place to stay? Absolutely! Was Joy Junction the right place for them? Most definitely not! Where should he stay? That needs to be part of a community conversation.

However, concern about someone being homeless and having no ID when really bad weather or children are involved motivated a response from Cheryl.

She wrote, “Would you turn away someone … when it’s blistering cold and snowing outside with an individual in front of you with just the clothes on his/her back and a jacket, and no financial means to go elsewhere … ? What if someone had children with them and fleeing a domestic situation, and left in a hurry and wasn’t able to grab their belongings? Would you deny them shelter because of an ID?”

No, Cheryl, we wouldn’t and neither would-as far as I know-any of the other shelters in Albuquerque that routinely ask for ID.

For families unable to stay at Joy Junction for a number of reasons, we would if necessary (and the funds were available) get them a few nights lodging at one of a number of local motels with which we work.

Terrianne said, “I think there should be like a tent city for no ID people, or people who don’t want a paper trail. There could be a soup kitchen or a sack meal, and they can work with organizations to help them get their ID and get into a better shelter.”

Sounds okay on the surface, but there’s the issue of insurance and responsibility. And who pays the bill when someone gets hurt (quite possibly by the guy who doesn’t want the paper trail), and sues the operators of “tent city?” You can see where I’m going with that, right, especially if tax dollars are involved.

I liked Marcie’s comments. She wrote, “Safety of others (especially children) is the main concern – regardless of litigious red tape. If someone has room to complain, they can start their own shelter for those in that situation … or give to the soup kitchens that are already in operation. (You could also) see what your local church is doing, or start helping somehow.”

She concluded, “It is not as easy as it sounds.”

What would Jesus do? The best I can guess is that He would handle each situation individually and do so lovingly and kindly. Please say a prayer for us we follow that example.