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2008-10-23 17:11:17 (UTC)

Homeless Face Challenges in Voting

ROCHESTER, NY (2008-10-22) Being homeless has its obvious
challenges: where the next meal is coming from, where to
sleep, and how to keep the kids in school. But this
November, Rochester's homeless will face an additional
challenge - voting.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National
Coalition for the Homeless, says even though a series of
court battles in the 1980s won people without a home the
right to vote in all 50 states, it's hard to get that right
recognized. Stoops says, "Many states require a mailing
addresses ... and homeless people are always suspect when
they show up at polling places. So we have monitors set up
in polling places, especially in states like Ohio, to make
sure that homeless people are not turned away from the
polling places because they don't have ID, or [if] there's
been a mix-up on the paperwork."

Monroe County election commissioner Thomas Ferrase confirms
that the homeless can vote, even if they initially
registered to vote at an address at which they no longer
live. "We will allow, for example, an address like 'Park
Bench, Washington Square Park", but they also have to then
provide us where they're going to get their mail. So maybe
it is a shelter that they go to occasionally, but if in
fact they're actually living off a park bench we will
accept that as an address."

To help the homeless access their right to vote, service
providers like the Catholic Family Center (CFC) are gearing
up voter education campaigns. Lisa Lewis is the director of
the Homeless and Housing Department at CFC. She says this
year, much more than in years past, the election is a hot
topic in the shelters. "People are very interested in the
election. They are definitely asking questions about it.
They seem like they have a willingness to look at it more
than I think ever before. People honestly just need help."

Lewis says this year, the economy has been the primary
issue in discussions about the election. Stoops hears about
the economy too, but he says another top issue is the war.
He says about 30 percent of the homeless are veterans, who
don't want to see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan create a
new generation of homeless vets.

Stoops says his organization wants to make sure that the
voices of the homeless are heard this election. He says
with some shelters in large cities having up to 300 people
registered to vote there, politicians can't ignore the
homeless vote.

"The vote of a homeless person is equal of that of Bill
Gates. We might not have the money of Bill Gates, but we
have the political power to exercise our right to vote in
our society."

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