It was 6:30 a.m. on a brisk November day, and the line outside the Orlando Union Rescue Mission was about 400 people deep.
Only 250 of them would get help this day. But, for even that chance, they had begun lining up at midnight.
What these people wanted wasn't shelter, money or even food.
Just their identity — official proof that they exist.
You probably don't think much about the fact that you have a drivers license in your wallet or purse.
But imagine for a moment that you didn't.
Imagine you were a homeless veteran who had been robbed, not only of your ID, but of any other proof that you are who you say.
Imagine you are a battered spouse whose manipulative husband stole all of your personal documents to keep you from leaving.
You have no money or job. But, more important, you don't have the resources to start over.
In the eyes of the world, you don't exist.
The situation is heartbreakingly common.
The good news is that there are hundreds of people in our community working to help their fellows. Most notably, a group of downtown churches spawned an effort, called IDignity, dedicated solely to this cause.
The group has helped thousands of Central Floridians get their identity back.
But last year, the Florida Legislature made IDignity's job much harder — 150 percent harder, to be precise.
Actually, they made ID cards more costly for everyone when they were struggling to balance their budget.
Instead of closing existing tax loopholes for special interests, they jacked up the cost of obtaining an ID.
Yacht-buyers got a new tax break — and you saw the cost of replacement licenses jump from $10 to $25. New licenses went from $20 to $48.
Overnight, IDignity's costs for helping the destitute more than doubled.
And that's where the state needs to make things right.
I've long argued that the state shouldn't have balanced its budget on the backs of rank-and-file Floridians in the first place. But these jacked-up costs are a particular hardship on the destitute and the people who help them.
Legislators should find a way to fix that — perhaps by waiving the fees for authorized agencies such as IDignity that are trying to help the downtrodden get their lives back on track.
It's the right thing to do. But it's also financially prudent.
Consider one of the more gut-wrenching scenes I witnessed at the Rescue Mission last month:
I saw an unemployed man, eager to start a job he had finally landed. But he lacked the money and resources to get the birth certificate, Social Security card and drivers license he needed to start drawing a paycheck.
Even worse was the wait time for his out-of-state birth certificate — one to three months.
Until then, this man — eager to become self-sufficient — would be on his own.
One of the ironies is that, if he were a criminal, he would have food and housing provided in jail. If he were a drug addict, he could be placed in a rehab center.
But since he was merely a down-and-out resident trying to improve his own lot in life, his options were limited.
"The homeless person who's not a criminal or drug addict has a much harder time, " explained Michael Dippy, IDignity's director.
That man was merely one of hundreds that day.
There were veterans, parents and disabled residents — hundreds of people who wanted nothing more than a chance to officially re-enter society.
It's like that every single time IDignity stages an ID day.
It's disturbing to think such groups will help significantly fewer people, simply because of increased government fees.
Fortunately, some lawmakers agree.
I spoke with several legislators about finding a way to make it easier to get licenses and IDs in the hands of the needy — by waived fees, a special fund or even some other creative approach.
All of them — Sen. Andy Gardiner and Reps. Bryan Nelson, Scott Plakon and Scott Randolph — described the cause as noble and said they would start looking at ways to remedy the issue.
Good for them.
The cause is too just and the cost too small to let this problem fester.
For more information about this group, visit IDignity.org. Scott Maxwell can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6141.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun