Acquiring The Homeless Vote
By Aubrey Jackson
BU News Service
ALLSTON/BRIGHTON – Voting during a presidential election is supposed to be a universal experience. Every citizen has the right to vote, although millions choose not to exercise it, or are not in a position to do so. Among such people are the thousands of men and women who bear the designation, and the stigma, of “the homeless.”
According to the Boston Public Health Commission there are an estimated 3,400 homeless individuals in the city. One of them is William Higgims, a homeless resident of Allston. Not too long ago, he told online news website Wicked Local that, they reported, “He believes his ticket to getting off the streets lies in the outcome of the 2012 election, and he supports another term for President Obama.” Yet Higgims has not registered to vote. His priority, he said, is “getting food and keeping warm.”
Because he shares this priority with many homeless persons, the National Coalition for the Homeless holds an annual voters’ registration week to spread the message that “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote.”
During October, the Pine Street Inn, located in Allston-Brighton, also helped to register over 70 of its residents. “We have held a voter registration event for the past four presidential elections,” said Barbara V. Trevisan, its Director of Communications. Another similar community initiative was that of the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. “With the help of 21 student volunteers, Harvard Square workers and a mix of homeless and non-homeless people, we registered 17 voters right off the street,” says the Inn’s administrative director, Kelly Sullivan.
Mass Vote, located in Boston, has also worked with the community to help homeless persons register to vote this year. The organization seeks to encourage a culture of active political participation by providing civic organizations with the tools they need to organize, register, and educate voters.
When talking to the homeless, says Avi Green, co-director of massvote.org. “I never underestimate the importance of voting. In my opinion, a homeless person’s vote is just as valid as Bill Gates’. Everyone has equal rights.”
Massachusetts gives homeless persons the option of using a shelter address, or the address of their last place of residency on their registration form. The redesigned forms help alleviate the stress of registering for all voters, something that benefits the homeless, as well.
The League of Women Voters, a prominent nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, has praised the new form and the beneficial effect it has had on the homeless.
With the assistance of such organizations as the National Coalition for the Homeless, the Pine Street Inn, and Mass Vote, many homeless persons were able to exercise their right to vote this year.
“There are misconceptions about homeless people voting,” says Trevisan. “Some think they can’t vote without a permanent address. Others think that if you have been incarcerated you are not allowed to vote. We want people to know that they have a voice.”