With so many impediments to civic engagement after losing one’s home, voter participation is disproportionately low among unsheltered people and residents of emergency shelters. Following a few simple steps, providers can encourage the people they serve to make their voices heard.
Why Does Voting Matter for People Experiencing Homelessness?
Just as case work and counseling can provide avenues for personal growth in homeless programs, voter participation and community engagement help people get stronger together. Homelessness itself often feels like a process of losing one’s voice. So much of daily life becomes determined by what’s allowed, instead of making decisions for oneself: Which streets or empty lots are available to find some rest without fear of harassment or arrest? What’s for dinner at the soup kitchen? Who are you bunking next to at the shelter? What time do the lights go off and when does everyone have to leave in the morning? Voting is an opportunity to empower people who have had too many choices taken from them. It is a fundamental right that gives each of us an equal say in our communities and the nation.
Given the uneven risks of who becomes homelessness in America, voting is also a racial justice issue. Registering and educating people experiencing homelessness about voting and the voting process is a way to reduce this racial disparity.
We’ve learned as a sector that shelter isn’t enough if it is disconnected from housing opportunities, or that case management by itself can do more harm than good if it isn’t trauma-informed. In the same way, we need to recognize the importance of civic engagement and lived-experience advocacy in the delivery of homeless services. Each person deserves to be seen as a full member of society with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.
Read the full article about voter engagement by Jerry Jones at National Alliance to End Homelessness.