Helping youth reclaim their identity in more ways than one

There are at least 6,000 youth without a safe place to sleep every night in Canada. Each of them has a story, a dream, and a future. When a young person shows up at our doors they're often stressed, tired and have experienced some form of trauma from abuse, neglect or family breakdown.

As a result, many young people experiencing homelessness often have difficulty keeping track of their belongings and holding onto their identification. They may have left it in a place they cannot return to, or - without the ability to safely store identification – it can get lost or stolen.

Because of this, many young people are living without at least one piece of official identification.  That can mean they cannot easily access important health appointments, and they face challenges with securing employment, opening a bank account and accessing social services.

Can you imagine how stressful that would be?

Samina Rafaquat, an identification worker and commissioner of oath can.

Over the last 13 years, Samina Rafaquat has been coming to Covenant House to help solve young people’s identification-related problems. She provides this service on behalf of the Partners for Access and Identification (PAID) project - one of the programs offered by Neighbourhood Link Support Services, a non-profit support service agency working to help newcomers, youth, unemployed, seniors and the marginally housed.

“A lot of my work involves meeting people where they are and that requires kindness. People are coming from tough situations, or they might be having a rough day, and to best help them, you can’t take that personally.”

Samina experienced homelessness at a point in her life and feels a unique connection with the youth she helps at Covenant House. That’s because she understands the everyday challenges: the lack of mobility and autonomy, the security fears, and the increased isolation – that come with not having ID.

A youth experiencing homelessness named Gianna was grateful for the understanding, compassion, and practical support she received from Samina. “As someone who is in a vulnerable community, I was glad I accessed the ID Clinic to obtain a health card and receive access to health care services and my necessary medication. It’s also my only form of ID, so I’m extremely grateful to have it.”

Another youth, Lucas, echoed that sentiment. “They helped prepare me to enter the work force. They assisted me in acquiring ID in a system full of confusion.”

Young people can meet with Samina at Covenant House’s drop-in centre every Friday afternoon for help in attaining documents such as Birth Registration, Canadian Birth Certificate, Verification of Status (formerly known as Record of Landing), Ontario Health Card or Ontario Photo ID Card.