Having a valid piece of identification is a necessity that many of us take for granted.

In Canada, a parent or a legal guardian must go through the process of securing documentation and identification for their dependants at a very young age, including the birth certificate. For many adults, the responsibilities of renewing one’s health card, driver’s licence or filling out a SIN number for a job application are often overlooked as some of the many miniscule chores they must do as an integrated member of society.

On the other hand, the reality for someone who is experiencing homelessness may be much more complicated, when it comes to the issue of obtaining and keeping identification safe. A number of systemic barriers, including service costs and a lack of affordable housing,often prevent these individuals from having a valid ID. Their unique sets of circumstances such as not having stable housing or being unemployed also make the process of obtaining an ID extremely difficult.

Different provinces have different sets of requirements for the application process that add to these challenges.

In Ontario, the following is required:

To obtain a birth certificate you need:

  • Your first and last name
  • The legal information that will be placed on the birth certificate including: first name, middle name, last name, date of birth, city of birth
  • If applicable, the previous legal names that the applicant had
  • A guarantor (i.e. someone who can verify the validity of the information on the birth certificate. This person has to meet certain requirements, such as having known the person for a minimum of two years and being of a particular occupation.)

To obtain your SIN card, you need one of:

  • A birth certificate (the original document and NOT a photocopy)
  • (If you are a citizen): a certificate of Canadian Citizenship
  • Certificate of Registration of Birth Abroad

More documentation is needed to acquire a health card (OHIP)—you must have three pieces of identification proving citizenship or residency. This means you need a permanent address and an additional piece of ID with both your name and signature to support your identity, as well as another mailing item that proves your residency at the given address.

An illustration of John Doe's ID
Media Folder: 

This highlights a common dilemma that Canadians without IDs face, as the process of obtaining ID requires possession of ID. In fact, many cases require multiple pieces of ID.

Without a stable place to call “home,” someone who is experiencing homelessness may not have the means to complete forms such as birth certificates for several reasons, such as not having the necessary parental information or difficulties with reading and writing. Even if such resources are available to them, they also may not have the transportation necessary to travel to a Service Ontario location to apply for their ID.

And for those frequently moving from one location to the next, there may not be the social connections to obtain a guarantor necessary to vouch for their identity. Some may also have their identification lost or stolen. Moreover, even if they do get through this process, there is the additional issue of not having a permanent address where their identification can be mailed to them.

These factors may discourage persons experiencing homelessness from even trying to begin the application process, leaving them unable to verify who they are, thus forcing them to live in a state of systemic invisibility. The invisibility that results from not being able to verify one’s identity can lead to barriers in accessing crucial services, such as the health care system.

What Can Be Done?

While there are “ID clinics” across Canada, other efforts can resolve some of the identification challenges the homeless population face.

To remove some of the service accessibility barriers that homeless individuals deal with, one of the solutions is to offer financial assistance or waive ID fees for individuals who do not meet the low-income cut off. And for those who are leaving the correctional system, it may be helpful to provide them with at least a single piece of ID.

A lack of identification is a symptom rather than a cause of homelessness. In other words, conditions of homelessness such as lacking secure housing, and not having a job and dealing with the everyday realities of extreme poverty, make it difficult to keep and obtain pieces of identification.

There are projects that take this into account. For example, Partners for Access and Identification (PAID) is a program that recognizes the barriers a lack of identification presents for those who are not permanently housed. There are more than 40 locations across the Greater Toronto Area, which provide assistance to individuals without permanent addresses to obtaining identification.

Who Can Help?

Supports are available to assist with the application process and storage of ID:


Partners for Access and Identification Program (PAID): a program that includes over 40 locations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), dedicated to helping individuals acquire identification.

The ID Project” at Ottawa Mission: Individuals who are a part of the homeless population and have had their IDs lost or stolen can access the help of lawyers and law students through this clinic.  Services are free-of-charge and assistance is provided with health cards, birth certificates, SIN cards and photo ID cards.

Street Health:  Offers I.D replacement clinics and I.D storage in the Dundas and Sherbourne Toronto area.

I.D Safe: Program that operates on weekdays, providing ID storage. To access, you must call 416-921-8668 ext. 234.

Service Canada Centres: (Various locations across provinces and cities). Provides general information regarding how to replace identification, such as passports and SIN cards.

St. John’s Kitchen: offers free ID clinics provided by the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre on Tuesdays, between 10 AM - 1PM.  Located at 97 Victoria St. S, in Kitchener, Ontario.


Personal Identification Certified Agency List: List includes four sites in Alberta for ID assistance, including: the Sheldon M Chumir Health Centre in Calgary, CSC Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat Regional Hospital in Medicine Hat.

AHS ID Program: Includes the four above mentioned Alberta ID assistance locations, with the additional Grande Prairie Aberdeen Centre.

British Columbia:

BC Housing Homeless Outreach Program: Provides those who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness with a variety of services. An outreach worker meets the person who requires assistance where they are. One of the services offered is assistance with obtaining identification.


Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City (CLASSIC) Project ID:
Program set up to address community need for getting and replacing ID, in locations across Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Know any other resources in Canada? Leave them in the comments below.