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Muskegon clerk sends staff to rescue mission to process birth certificates

Unhoused man
Sri Harsha Gera
Wikimedia Commons : Creative Commons CC0 1.0
Unhoused man

The Muskegon County Clerk has started sending her staff into the local rescue mission to help people there get their birth certificates. It’s the first step to getting any other paperwork they need to improve their lives. She never realized what a problem that is, and now plans to expand the outreach.

Once a month since May, Muskegon County Clerk Karen Buie sends her staff to the Muskegon Rescue Mission, armed with portable printers and computers linked to county and state registries. The idea is to help people there get copies of their birth certificates - a huge first step in acquiring anything else, such as Social Security cards, a Michigan ID, applications or housing.

“Getting a birth certificate for a majority of people is not this huge hurdle, but for those who are ’ transportationally-challenged,’ or are homeless or have no money, it’s like a mountain.”

Buie says the shelters are full right now with people struggling to support themselves and often their families. Clients are relieved to get birth certificates with no hassle, then and there, as many have no permanent address where paperwork can be mailed, among other challenges. Staff has arranged to use photo ID issued by the mission or even local bus pass photos as documentation.

“It was just really humbling today to see the individuals we were able to help and they were so grateful. Looking at the situations they were facing, at that point it was like a piece of gold to them.”

Buie is now applying for grants to expand the program to other agencies in Muskegon County and is collaborating with the state to help those newly released from prison with paperwork as well.

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