Why We Should Care About the Homeless Vote
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A battle is underway across the country over the constitutionality of these laws. We have seen new voter laws struck down or blocked as unconstitutional in several states such as Florida, Texas, SouthCarolina and Wisconsin.
At the same time, activists are working to make sure that organizations engaged in homeless voter registration are aware of the laws. “Each state has different laws, different ways of addressing voter ID, and...it is important for most groups who are planning on doing any type of voter registration campaigns, especially dealing with people experiencing homelessness, [to] start reaching out to officials and try to figure out how to address some of the problems that some people are beginning to see related to voter ID,” said Isaiah Castilla of the Alliance for Justice, a national civil rights advocacy group. Castilla recommends that activists use the Brennan Center for Justice Web site, which offers comprehensive resourcesforvoterregistration and asummaryofvotinglawchangesin 2012.
NCH also published a 2012 VoterRightsandRegistration Manual for organizations engaged in homeless voter registration and two weeks ago conducted a voter registration workshop during the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. “We talked about the nuts and bolts of not only how to do it, but why it’s important as well as informing people about the unique characteristics of their state,” said Neil Donovan. The workshop tuned out to be one of the most popular at the conference.
In addition to having a firm grasp of the law, activists working on the ground must be familiar with the logistics of each election. Simple things like making sure that a location is open during the hours it is supposed to be open can make a huge difference.
“The majority of the unhoused people who are our members are employed while they’re homeless,” said Donovan. “Many times the employment is from 7 to 3, having a half hour for lunch, something like that, so what we need to do is to make sure that if they say that they are going to open until 6 in the morning, they are open at 6 in the morning. We will have people go and just make sure that they are still open.”
Homeless Americans are by no means a homogenous group. Despite some of the myths and misconceptions about the homeless population, many people who are homeless are technologically savvy and well informed. However, when it comes to elections, especially local elections, where there can be dozens of candidates on the ballot, learning about the platforms of all the candidates when one doesn’t have a stable home can be a challenge. That is why voter education is such a challenging but essential part of activists’ work.
To prepare for Atlanta’s recent primary election, Homeless But Not Powerless posted on its Web site candidate profiles with links to candidates’ sites. However, because of a lack of funding, the group could not afford to produce print materials for individuals who do not have access to the Internet. “Primaries are just really really difficult to educate everyone, let alone a population that traditionally does not have the easiest access to the latest technology,” said Williams.
Chicago’s Mercy Housing Lakefront, a nonprofit permanent housing program for people with special needs, relies on its residents to help with voter drives and education. Most of the residents in the program have experienced homelessness, and some of them used to be chronically homeless. As part of its Civic Participation Project, which helps residents reintegrate into society, residents can become “deputy registrars” and register their neighbors as well as homeless people in shelters or on the street. Residents also help research candidates and educate voters.