When I first started my position here as an intake worker it took me a while to adjust. All at once I was booking hampers with patrons and hearing the many different stories that they all had to share – there was a lot of stuff to take in all at once.
Any time we speak with a patron at the front desk or on the phone, the job of an intake staff involves looking for additional ways that we might be able to help, such as referring them to other community resources. But during these conversations we need to remember that we’re here to fulfill a basic need: access to adequate and nutritious food. To do this we are expected to follow the process and questions involved in booking a food hamper. The standard intake questions make the process easier to follow; but originally I found it very easy to get distracted in patrons’ stories and get side tracked from what I was doing during an intake. However now that I’ve been working here for about two and half years I feel like I could recite the questions backwards in my sleep with no mistakes. But there’s more to the intake process than asking people a few questions.
The typical questions intake staff will ask when a patron is requesting a food hamper are for their name, date of birth, address, number of people in the household, and source of income (without giving a dollar amount). Most of these questions are relatively easy to answer since patrons can provide us with some type of identification, which may answer most of these questions. We don’t ask patrons to provide us with identification each time they visit, but some choose too. However, at some point during intake, staff need to see a piece of identification to complete setting up a patrons file so we can continue providing food assistance to them. After we’ve seen the identification one time we generally don’t need to see it again though. This one time is enough to help us verify that the person actually exists, or whether or not the patron has guardianship or visitation rights with a child.
Examples of acceptable pieces of identification are a recent bill with their name and address, social insurance card, photo bus pass, age of majority card, birth certificate, drivers’ license, aboriginal status card, permanent residents card, immigration papers, rent receipt, tenant agreement, probation papers, child custody court papers, jail release form, student cards, passport, old age security card, and Ontario works or Ontario Disability Drug card. As you can see the types of identification that are generally acceptable don’t require a photo to be present on the card.
One of the most interesting facts when it comes to seeing identification for the intake process is that the intake staff don’t request to see an identification card to record a number from the card; we request to see the card to verify the spelling of the name (and date of birth if possible) for each family member on a patron’s file. Also when a patron has access to a piece of identification we believe that the patron has some type of custody or guardianship over the individual, which makes it appropriate for our program to provide additional food.
Verifying an individual’s identity can sometimes be a complicated task though. One of the main reasons this task presents a challenge for us comes from patrons who are claiming for part-time children. Overall our program tries to operate mostly on trust, which means the staff can be flexible to add an individual on to a patrons’ file without seeing identification on the first visit. However we only allow a patron to access food three times without seeing some type of identification. Giving a patron three opportunities to provide the identification ideally gives them adequate time for the lost piece to be replaced, or to arrange getting the original identification from the full-time custodial parent.
People generally understand that we’re asking as little questions as possible to be able to provide them with food assistance, which leads to these patrons being honest and respectful in return. Different programs have different intake procedures depending on their resources. Some have a more rigorous system of means testing because they have scarce resources and want to target them to the people who need it the most. Others have more time and space to conduct their intake procedures and to explore other ways that they can help the people asking them for assistance. Our procedure is a compromise between time, since we’re often very busy, trust and providing a base line verification that the people we are serving are the people they claim to be.
However there are times when either our staff or patrons will request to have service of a food hamper on the condition that they provide identification upon each visit. The most common reason a patron may request us to ask to see their identification each time they come in is for patrons who dispute their number of hampers. This is often the result of someone who thinks someone may have fraudulently provided us with their name, instead of their actual identity to receive additional hampers. (Again this is thankfully a rare situation). The most common situations for an intake staff to change a patron to needing to provide identification every time is for adult children (age 21+) who are living at home; and in situations where we believe that someone may no longer be in the household. Re-setting the identification is the easiest way for us to verify the current situation in the patrons’ household, while trusting patrons to be honest.
One of the things I value about the work at this program is that the staff and volunteers trust the patrons accessing our program from the outset. Personally I find it reassuring that our program does its best to be flexible in all ways for patrons who are faced with many other stresses in their lives. We’re not driven to stick to a rigid formula to help people, or forcing people to follow in a cookie cutter shaped process to receive help. Instead we are able to provide them with a friendly smile and simple (brief) conversation to help them through their emergency situation by providing a few days of food, if they receive no other type of assistance while at our program.