Elm City ID ‘mobile unit’ to hit local high schools

The “mobile unit” of the Elm City Resident Card program has already toured much of New Haven. Now it has a new destination: high schools.

After coming to the Yale campus during New Haven Solidarity Week last fall, the unit has visited — among other places — clinics, senior centers and churches, officials in the Office of New Haven Residents said. Now, as the city continues in its effort to promote the Elm City Resident Card across all demographics and residents, the mobile unit is focusing on making available the IDs — of which about 5,200 have been registered so far — to city youth.

Jessica Bialecki ’08, who assisted with the organization of New Haven Solidarity Week — a joint student and city endeavour to raise awareness about the ID program — said she was elated to hear that the city would be reaching out to younger residents.

“I think getting young people, high schoolers, engaged and thinking about what it means to be a resident of New Haven is excellent,” she said. “High schoolers are not necessarily going to have another ID.”

Riverside Education Academy will be the first of a yet to be determined number of high schools city officials visit, beginning March 18. From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., students under the age of 17 can obtain the cards for $6 — almost half of what it costs adults — but the registration drive is not limited to youngsters.

“It’s open to the public,” noted Camelle Scott ’07, the office’s processing clerk, who handles many of the registrations. Some parents or other adults are also welcome to register at the school, she said.

Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, director of communications for New Haven public schools, said in an e-mail that Riverside is located in a complex on Ella Grasso Boulevard that also includes the New Haven Adult Education Center, which offers classes to adults without a high school education, and will thus be easily accessible to many people.

Darnell Goldson, a critic of the ID card program who has announced his intention to run against Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in 2009, said he thinks that promoting the card among students is a waste of the city’s resources, since students cannot use the debit card feature.

While the adult card can be used for debit transactions, residents 16 and under have allergy and emergency contact information on theirs instead. But City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga explained that with parental permission, a younger resident can obtain a card with full debit features, as long as he or she is willing to pay the full cost.

“If they get access to the debit services, it might be helpful,” Goldson said, adding that he thinks financial literacy classes should accompany the registration in that case. “But it’s probably duplication of services.”

He said his own child has had a state identification since age 13 and also has a school ID, so he does not think simply giving the students a new form of identification would be very useful.

Leaders of the registration drive said the outreach program is only one aspect of their continued efforts to encourage city residents to sign up for the cards.

Kica Matos, the community-service administrator and designer of the ECRC program, said the office was always intended to be more than a processing center — it was also supposed to be a place for general orientation and assistance, which she said it is becoming.

“Since July, we’ve [distributed] not only 5,200 ID cards, but we’ve also developed a pretty comprehensive system to provide direct assistance,” Matos said. “We have only been up and running for seven months, and we’ve opened a new office, expanded the scope of office, launched a mobile unit. It’s a lot of work for small staff in a short amount of time.”

Although she did not provide details, she said the office will continue to grow — and that officials are exploring options for expanding the scope of the assistance provided to city residents at the City Hall office.

Matos also said the office looks forward to the opening of First City Bank, which funded the program and will accept the cards as a form of ID. The bank will also be important in the city’s efforts to increase financial literacy, she said.

The community bank was scheduled to open by the beginning of 2008, but it was delayed after its executive director left right before its official application for a bank charter to the state was processed. The bank now expects to open some time in 2008, said Mark Sklarz, president of the First City Fund Corp., which funded the creation of the ID card program and is charged with creating the bank.

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