Voting is a vital aspect of American democracy. It’s considered one of the most important rights bestowed upon citizens. Casting a ballot allows an individual to use their political voice on the local and national stage to support candidates who will represent their interests.
People experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity have historically been one of the most underrepresented voting blocs in the country. There are many barriers that come with being homeless that can make the voting process harder or more confusing. These barriers include a lack of access to technology, not having a stable address or having incorrect identification needed to cast a ballot.
Although homelessness has been a major problem around the country for many years, it is often overlooked or overshadowed by other political issues.
“People’s priorities tend to reflect their own experience. People who are actually running for office … are generally from class backgrounds where homelessness is not something they have experienced,” David Weakliem, a University of Connecticut sociology professor, said.
Community Outreach Dialogues hosted a discussion entitled “The Intersections of Homelessness and Voting: The Political and Practical Barriers” to examine the added challenges of voting for individuals who are facing temporary or chronic homelessness, an issue that has been heightened because of COVID-19. This timely discussion occurred a little less than a week before the 2020 presidential election, and panelists stressed the importance of empowering homeless individuals to vote.
“Voting is a very hopeful thing to do. We understand that when someone votes, it … gives a dose of optimism,” Seth Warner, a PhD candidate at Penn State University, said.
Dealing with the compounding stressors involved in housing insecurity and homelessness often pushes voting to the back burner for many individuals. COVID-19 has been a big factor in shaping whether or not people who fit into this voting bloc will choose to or be able to cast their ballot this election cycle.
“The pandemic had a huge impact on the homelessness response system in Connecticut,” Sarah Fox, director of advocacy and community impact at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said.
The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness works alongside emergency shelter providers, transitional housing providers and other community organizations toward the ultimate goal of preventing and ending homelessness in the state.
A major problem that the pandemic created was that shelters were no longer considered safe since residents are closely congregated and were unable to socially distance themselves. NBC Connecticut reported that were roughly 2,000 people in homeless shelters at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and because of organizations like the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, 1,099 people were connected to housing between June 1 and September 30.
“Our focus is … keeping people safe and protected,” Fox said. “And really trying to get people into housing or keep them from falling into homelessness.”
The National Coalition for the Homeless has created a campaign called “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” in order to promote voting access for low income and homeless people and allow them to have a voice in their future.
Homelessness and voting are two incredibly intertwined topics. Many people assume that individuals experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness are automatically ineligible to vote, but this is not the case. Local organizations like the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and nationwide organizations like The National Coalition for the Homeless are working tirelessly to provide a voice to these communities and encourage them to stay involved in the voting process.
There are many resources on both of these coalition’s websites that provide information for potential voters as well as people interested in helping in the voter registration process. Voting is a basic human right that should not be determined by a person’s housing situation. Becoming educated on this topic will allow for more members of the homeless community to feel empowered to use their political voice in the future.