The homeless and nearly homeless, who seem always to be searching for work, don't like to get paid by check.

Some demand cash and infuriate employers - or potential employers."Who do they think they are, telling me how to pay them?" one job foreman fumed to me. "They ought to be glad I pay them at all."

Maybe. But I can understand why these men and women don't want checks.

The last time I cashed a two-party check, I had to show a driver's license, a bank guarantee card, and a major credit card.

Identification is one of the main barriers that the homeless face. Besides having no permanent address or telephone number, most of them can't even prove they are who they say they are.

It's been a long time since you could walk into your friendly neighborhood bank and cash anything based on an honest face or a winsome smile.

So when they try to cash a pay check, most of them have to go to one of the outfits that, while offering a service no one else wants to extend the homeless, also does quite well off of them by charging a percentage of the check as a cashing fee. And when you're barely making it anyway, that percentage can really hurt.

Last week, a step was taken to solve the identification problem. Through the efforts of the state and Salt Lake County homeless coordinating committees, identification cards have been made available to the homeless.

They are similar to a driver's license, but there are definite differences so the two won't be confused. And unlike a driver's license, no one has an obligation to accept the temporary ID card.

"It's essentially a self-declaration," said Steve Erickson, of the Salt Lake County homeless committee. "As such, it has no coercive power. We can't make people honor it. We're just hoping that people will trust their best instincts and help overcome what has been a serious barrier."

The cards are good for 90 days, during which time the homeless are expected to track down proper identification like birth certificates so they can get official, valid identification. The temporary IDs literally buy time to get other identification together.

The self-declarative aspects don't bother Erickson or Maun Alston, chairman of the state committee and a moving force behind issuance of the cards. The homeless, in general, they said, are not going to "be white-collar workers you need to look out for" to avoid fraud.

And since most people, including the homeless, know their own Social Security numbers, there's every reason to believe they are who they claim to be.

And lying about who they are would seem to be pointless, since the card alone can't be used to get permanent, more acceptable forms of identification, like a driver's license.

The worth of the card will be in how businesses, employers and others view it.

"It really remains to be seen," Erickson said. "If employers and others cooperate, it could prove to be an invaluable step to getting back on their feet for those who have had problems. At worst, it will have proven to be an exercise in futility. It certainly won't do any harm."

The cards are available at three locations in Salt Lake County: The new homeless shelter, St. Vincent De Paul Center and through the Community Action Program.

In Ogden, cards are available at the PAAG Contact Center and at St. Anne's shelter. In Provo, the cards are only available through the Mountainlands Community Action Agency.

In each case, the issuing agency will help the cardholder fill out the pertinent information, which includes Social Security number, birthdate, height, sex, weight, eye color, a signature and general address information.

The cardholder then takes the card to the Driver's License Bureau to have a photo taken and the card laminated. There's no charge for the service.

Card disbursement in rural communities hasn't been decided yet.

Only time - and members of the community - will tell the worth of these identification cards. But we can all hope that one more barrier to the self-sufficiency of the homeless is being chipped away.