Sometimes it Really Does Take a Village
What is identity? Identity can be the name of a person, who someone is, or the qualities and beliefs that make you who you are. We don’t realize how important identity is until you are trying to prove it. Now imagine trying to prove your identity to the rest of the world with absolutely no proof. Lawrence Tuman (legally Lawrence Simons) began staying in emergency shelters in the Hartford area in April of 2014. He didn’t have any documents such as a photo ID, a social security card or a birth certificate. That is common among the homeless population, though. Sleeping outside or moving from shelter to shelter is a very easy way to get your items lost or stolen. He was also not receiving any government benefits such as SNAP, commonly known as food stamps or HUSKY (medical insurance), jointly due to the lack of documents and the inability to locate a social security number matching to a “Lawrence Tuman.” He continued with his life every day living in the shelter with the same routine. Wake up, pack belongings, go to the legislative office building, supreme court, lunch on a good day, library, and then back to the shelter for check-in time. He was not a danger to himself or others, and so he continued with this routine for two years.
Fast forward to Spring of 2016. By now, he has met the definition of chronic homelessness, having been homeless for over a year continuously and having a diagnosed disability. But having no documents is a barrier to obtaining housing because most landlords require an ID. It is challenging to get a social security card without an ID and you can’t get an ID without a birth certificate and you can’t get the birth certificate without the social security number. What do you do if you have nothing and there is still no evidence that Lawrence Tuman, with the date of birth and social security number provided ever existed? A navigator was assigned to Lawrence to assist him in getting “document ready” for housing. After numerous failed attempts and methods to try to establish his true identity, Journey Home and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness finally got the start they needed. On April 15, 2016, with assistance from Hartford Deputy Chief of Police Brian Foley, Journey Home staff took Lawrence to be fingerprinted by the City of Hartford police department in hopes that there would be a match. Initially the fingerprints were deemed “poor quality” so he had to come back and get fingerprinted again. Days later, on April 20, 2016, the fingerprint expert was able to find a match linked to an old police record from 2002. The fingerprints matched Lawrence Simons, from Winsted, CT. We were ecstatic because we finally felt like we were another step closer. Lawrence Simons had the same birthday that Lawrence Tuman provided although with a different year and the last 4 digits of Lawrence Simons’ social security number matched one of the many variations that Lawrence Tuman provided. However, Lawrence did not believe that those were his fingerprints and did not remember his name as Lawrence Simons.
With this information, we contacted the Town of Winsted for assistance in obtaining a birth certificate for Lawrence Simons. We submitted the police record we received from the City of Hartford and crossed our fingers that we would get something in return. Two weeks later, we received an original birth certificate in the mail! It was a great day for us. With this document, we were able to pursue other necessary documents. Our next goal was to obtain a social security card for Lawrence but we were still one document too short of the required documents for a replacement card. This is when we asked for assistance from the HOPE team at Capital Region Mental Health Center (CRMHC). After proper releases were signed by Lawrence, the HOPE team was able to link old medical records to new medical records and provide these to the Social Security Administration.
Two weeks later, Lawrence was matched to housing with the Greater Hartford Rental Assistance, a supportive housing program. He later became connected with a housing coordinator at Chrysalis Center who assisted him in locating an apartment. Finally, on August 3, 2016, he moved out of the very supportive Open Hearth Shelter and he was housed in a lovely unit of his very own. Journey Home continued to assist him with settling in with furniture from our Making a House a Home project.
He is currently receiving case management services from Chrysalis Center. Most recently, it was discovered that he was receiving social security benefits in 2008 and his benefits were never terminated. His benefits were suspended due to being unable to reach him. His case manager has been working with him to get a conservator so that his funds may be released to him. So here is one man, one client, with several successes. From establishing his true identity, increasing income (Social Security benefits and food stamps) and most importantly, giving him a set of keys to his own apartment. We consider this more than a success, we think of this as a life changer. And none of this would have ever been possible without the incredible collaboration that happened and our CAN working together. We are changing lives, person by person.