Image: Flickr/Caelie_Frampton

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The homeless have the right to vote and to a home.

According to Elections Canada and the lawyers who argued for the government and against the Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students in their Charter Challenge in the Fair Elections Act case, if you are homeless, no worries, you can still vote in this federal election.

According to officials, a homeless person has only to go to the Elections Canada website to learn how they can vote.

Elections Canada: “What counts as my home address? If you stay in a shelter: Your home address is the address of the shelter.” 

Me: Reality? Shelters across the country are full and overflowing. Not everyone has a ‘home’ address in a shelter.

Elections Canada: “If you live on the street and receive services from a shelter or soup kitchen: Your home address is the address of the shelter or soup kitchen.”

Me: Reality? Well, if you’re living on the street you’re likely not receiving services from a shelter. In addition, many front-line workers and homeless people are asking ‘what’s a soup kitchen’? It’s an antiquated term. Does Elections Canada mean drop-in centres? To dumb down the services offered by social service agencies such as drop-ins that provide health care, harm reduction, mental health supports, employment and housing help shows how out of touch they are. Sure, some of these centres provide food but it’s usually done with attention to dignity and to build community. It’s not just ladling soup and handing out bread to a long line of destitute people.

Elections Canada: “How do I prove my identity and home address? See the list of ID accepted at the polls. Here are some ways you can prove your identity and home address:

1)  To prove your identity (name): You can show a piece of ID with your name on it, like a library card, public transportation card, birth certificate, hospital or health card, label on a prescription container or government statement of benefits.

2)  To prove your home address: You can show an official letter called a letter of confirmation of residence. Learn how to get one from your shelter or soup kitchen.

3)  If you don’t have ID proving your address: Take an oath, show two pieces of ID with your name, and have someone who knows you and who lives in your polling division attest to your address. Learn more about taking an oath.”

Me: Reality? As I testified, in a pre-court hearing for the Charter Challenge case, it is extremely unlikely that most homeless people will, at the time of the election, have the necessary ID. As a nurse, I also think it’s a severe breach of confidentiality to expect someone to show their prescription drug container, hospital or health card or statement of benefits (which they are likely not receiving anyway) to an Elections Canada official who has likely been hired from the same community to work on election day.

Sure, the right to vote is important to protect. Over the years homeless advocates across the country have attempted homeless voter registration campaigns, have held all-candidates meetings in shelters and drop-ins on homelessness and housing, and have strived to influence party platforms. In a historic precedent the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee held both a fax-a-thon and phone-a-thon for homeless people to tell federal parties their concerns.

On a personal note, when I ran provincially for the NDP in the Toronto-Centre riding in Ontario, I made sure that my campaign staff team included a homeless vote coordinator, who himself was homeless. It was a full-time paid job and he did massive outreach and education in the riding that has the largest concentration of homeless shelters and services in the country.

There are also some creative efforts this time around. In Peterborough Ontario, a get-out-the-vote campaign will use a bus to transport homeless people to advance polls.

In Calgary Alberta, reportedly for the first time in history, there will be a federal election poll in a shelter. Workers there have helped to register 450 people to vote on October 19. In preparation for Election Day they also held a mock election where instead of selecting a party or a candidate, homeless voters were asked to choose their biggest issue out of four choices: minimum income, affordable housing, harm reduction and mental health. 

While the right to vote is a fundamental component of a democracy, this election should be about much more than that. When fellow street nurse Jessica Hales and I issued the Call For Housing petition we did so to build momentum for housing as a human right and for a national housing program. To my utter dismay the election discourse on housing has been weak, the promises inadequate, vague, muffled and underfunded.

This week, across the country organizations will be holding a National Week of Action on Housing. Here are some resources for you to hold your candidates accountable. It’s not too late.

Further resources:

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Image: Flickr/Caelie_Frampton