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One Step Away


A plea for justice

belongings, including his photo ID were destroyed. Green was left without a government-

issued ID or a mailing address. Through HAP, Attorney DeFlece worked with Green,

submitting the application to receive a copy of a birth certificate on Green’s behalf. NYC

said they were able to locate a birth certificate for Green but refused to release it because his

application did not include the three identity verification documents.

Kagain, 56, was also denied his birth certificate. Brooklyn born, Kagain obtained his master’s

degree from George Washington University and a law degree from Temple University,

becoming a Philadelphia resident in 1991. A serious illness led him to his homelessness. From

living on the street, Kagain’s Pennsylvania driver’s license was stolen or lost, and his passport

and birth certificate were also stolen. Attorney Morrow submitted an application to NYC for

Kagain through HAP. Morrow heard nothing for six months and resubmitted the documents,

where the Department refused to issue the birth certificate. It said that their records indicated

that Kagain was deceased.

“The people we are trying to help have a desperate need for essential services such as housing,

medical treatment, and employment,” Cohen said. “But access to those services require state

issued IDs, and people need their birth certificates in order to obtain their IDs.”

In its complaint, HAP stated that it spends substantially more time assisting NYC-born

clients due to the NYC Policy. According to HAP, the policy violates the due process

component of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and is therefore


HAP's mission is to provide free, civil legal services to homeless individuals and families

residing in Philadelphia shelters and to advocate for change in the broader systems affecting

homeless people. Its overarching goals are to increase the stability and functioning of their


Since its founding in 1990, HAP has served more than 42,810 homeless individuals and

families. The legal organization conducts more than 125 annual legal clinics at 25 shelters,

soup kitchens, transitional housing facilities, and overnight cafes in Philadelphia.

“Our city is ahead of the curve,” Cohen said. “I think people really take the photo ID for

granted. It’s really frightening when you think about it: when you can’t get an ID and you can’t

apply for services, don’t qualify for housing, and can’t get benefits because you just can’t get

this document from a government agency that really should be thinking about it from the

point of view of the folks who really need it.”

Cohen also praised the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for striking down the voter ID law,

which would require a photo ID from everyone casting a ballot at the polls during the general

election this month. Yet, first-time voters must bring a form of photo ID to the polls.

“When you make people jump through hoops in order to exercise a basic right, questions

need to be asked and answered,” said Cohen.

HAP’s demands in this case include the court declaring that: the NYC Policy violates the

due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; NYC be revoked of its ability to deny

birth certificates on the basis of the NYC Policy; and Green and Kagain’s attorneys’ fees, costs

and all other proper relief be awarded. HAP’s initial conference with a judge is scheduled for


“Some of these people are just out of luck [if the NYC Policy isn’t revoked], where they have

been for years and years,” Cohen said. “So effectively, nothing changes because they have been

somehowmanaging to survive without identification. But there’s only good news ahead. I’d be

really surprised if we were not successful.”

To learn more about the Homeless Advocacy Project or become a legal volunteer, visit



When you make people jump through hoops

in order to exercise a basic right, questions need

to be asked and answered.


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