Lack of ID leads to dead ends for the poor, new director says

Ellen Unger, director of the St. Edward Outreach Center, talks with James, whom she helped obtain his birth certificate. With that document he was able to find a place to live, obtain his Social Security card and find a job.
Ellen Unger, director of the St. Edward Outreach Center, talks with James, whom she helped obtain his birth certificate. With that document he was able to find a place to live, obtain his Social Security card and find a job.

TEXARKANA — For many years, St. Edward Outreach Center, operated by St. Edward Church in Texarkana, has provided a sack lunch for needy people every weekday. When Ellen Unger became the paid director of the center in March, assisted by her husband Steve, it didn’t take them long to see another pressing need besides hunger: a valid identification card.
When most people are asked for identification, they pull out their driver’s license. But for the very poor, valid identification can be a big problem. Too often they have no driver’s license or birth certificate. Ellen Unger observed, “The No. 1 need is for state-issued IDs.”
She got busy helping people obtain them and is already seeing what a difference it is making in their lives.
For example, James, the father of two small children, said, “Ms. Ellen helped me get birth certificates for myself and my two children, and they (the birth certificates) helped me to get an apartment. Until then, we were staying at the Salvation Army. And with the birth certificates I also was able to get Social Security cards. The Social Security card helped me to get a job.”
James is now happily employed.
Karyle and Thomas, a married couple who were sleeping in the woods, also got their IDs with Unger’s help.
“We had no ID and couldn’t get anything done without it,” Karyle said.
The couple told Unger they needed a copy of their marriage license in order to get their IDs from the state of Arkansas. Unger obtained the marriage license for them and then ordered the IDs. Unger made extra copies of the marriage license to keep in her office in case they lost their copy in their hazardous environment. Now Unger is working with a local charity agency to help the couple get a place to live. Karyle and Thomas are willing to work hard and are doing odd jobs for various people.
One man needed copies of his fingerprints in order to get the job he wanted. Through the Outreach Center, Unger paid for him to get fingerprinted.
“He now works full time and is a happy soul,” she said. “And now he has enough money to get an apartment.”
Unger’s husband Steve, who is a volunteer, added, “We have seen some good results. For instance, Wendell. He got his ID and now he has a job and is working every day. That gives us a good feeling. Every now and again we get to see a success story, and that is really nice.”
The center has two paid employees: Unger and her assistant Brandon Glover. The rest of the workers are volunteers. Food is supplied by Harvest Texarkana, a local charity agency, and by the volunteers who often bring sandwiches from home or make them at the center. The people who come for food fill up a sack provided for them with sandwiches and a simple dessert, then they eat the food elsewhere. Financial support comes almost totally from St. Edward Church.
Another innovation Unger made that many of the needy people appreciate is an opportunity for them to write down prayer requests. A sheet of paper is placed next to the food on the counter. It doesn’t take long for the paper to be filled with names. Every Friday Unger takes the requests to the church to be prayed for.
Sometimes a very small thing can make a difference in a life. One day a volunteer noticed the reverent glance of a homeless man as he looked upward at a large crucifix hanging on the wall. The man then saw the volunteer looking at him. He smiled, pointed to the crucifix and then placed his hand over his heart. The volunteer thought how good it would be to find a small crucifix the man could carry in his pocket.
After the volunteer found one at home, she kept the crucifix in her purse until she saw the homeless man again at the Outreach Center. She quietly handed it to him. He looked at it, smiled broadly, thanked her and dropped it into his pocket.
Months later, as the man came through the food line, he saw her again, smiled and pulled the crucifix out of his pocket. He still kept it with him.

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