Getting out the homeless vote

The homeless can vote if they call a shelter such as the Caring Place their residence

Getting out the homeless vote

Are the homeless – no standard residential address – entitled to vote in this Saturday’s election?

Is enabling them to vote an issue – a question worthy of discussion?

Do these questions have anything to do with the global occupation movement?

One answer: yes.

Firstly, the homeless can vote if they call a shelter such as the Caring Place their residence. Fact is, residence could be a park bench next the fire hall if the chief declared he knew the man who’d been sleeping there for 30 days. Of course, the homeless guy would also have to swear he’s a Canadian citizen, has lived in B.C. for six months, and hasn’t broken any laws.

Most people don’t know this. Most homeless don’t. That’s why a lot don’t vote. Until now, nobody’s bothered to tell anyone they could. It hasn’t been an issue.

Section 52 (1) of the Local Government Act (1996): “a person is a resident of the area where the person lives and to which, whenever absent, the person intends to return.” This means that a form letter from a shelter stating that a client resides there is proof of eligibility to vote.

“I didn’t know that it [the legislation] was there before,” Caring Place director, Darrell Pilgrim told me. “This is the first year we’ve been informed about it.”

Ceri Marlo, chief election officer in Maple Ridge: “We knew the ability to do this has been there. We just haven’t contacted the facilities before this year.”

Why now?  “We got a call from a resident, an inquiry,” explained deputy election officer Tonya Polz.

Chris Iverson, a resident of Port Haney, didn’t know the homeless could vote, either, but thought it was an issue that should be addressed.

“I wanted to find out what was being done to enable the homeless locally to cast a vote,” said Iverson. “I said these people are being stripped of their vote. This is a constitutional right. You have to stand up and say something’s wrong or the government will ignore you.”

Marlo told me the plight of the homeless was brought to mind by the Occupy Vancouver movement and Iverson’s call. She contacted Surrey, Victoria, Pt. Alberni to see if they were making qualification easier for folks who didn’t get the newspaper delivered to their door. Some had informed shelters they could provide clients with ID form letters. All a client needed after that was one more piece of ID – a CareCard or a birth certificate, something many homeless carry protected in a plastic bag.

So, do the homeless want to vote? Here’s Pilgrim. “I’ve talked to a few people. Maybe, a dozen will be interested in it. Our desire will be to get as many invested as possible.”

Pilgrim said letters will be available for any client wanting one, and staff will be on hand Saturday to sign them.

Has he seen interest? “The mayoralty debate held at the Caring Place (last Saturday) went well. Most of the questions for the candidates came from the clients.”

Mike, a Caring Place resident, told me he was going to vote. Bruce, another, said he’ll vote to help the homeless here.

“We need a task team to assess the needs of the homeless in the community, more local effort in recovery programs, and second stage housing. It’s not right that people who are mentally ill are left in the street because the long-term psych-hospitals are shut down. There’s no safety net for people like me.”

Bruce wants a chance to rejoin the community. He thinks local politicians could do more to help. “I deserve a chance to be adopted into the work force,” he told me. “Then I’ll have pride to be a part of this community.”

The occupation movement has made more folks see the homeless as significant others in society. This will grow. After Saturday, we’ll see if anybody on council believes Chris and Bruce have touched on an issue worth exploring seriously.

Who to vote for? Here’s what I think.

Issues not adequately addressed by the current council: homelessness; urban sprawl – development projects outside the boundary that adversely impact farm land, ground water, stream health, and forests while denying “new” residents (the realtors euphemism for cash cow) the essentials of any subdivision; sidewalks, street lights, road egress and ingress.

Other issues: transparency (campaign expenses early on); on-going dialogue with neighbourhoods (Thornhill, over access to clean water); pedestrian safety (push button traffic lights).

The excuses:  Too expensive; “new” residents are more important than current ones; change takes years; be patient; and, “we can’t.”

Needed? New blood on council.  These candidates: Claus Andrup (smart development in the core); Carly O’Rourke (farmland); Kierstan Duncan (youth and intelligence); Corisa Bell (fire in the belly, spunk); Christian Cowley (ability to work collaboratively); Bob Goos ( inclusion for the less fortunate).

I also like Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Lang, and John McKenzie for a more resilient, close-knit community.

Pitt Meadows? Mike Stark would fight for citizen rights.

I won’t vote for school board until I see more than how to adapt to inadequate provincial funding. Libraries, ESL, band, student support, are issues for me. Years ago, I suggested trustees camp on the Legislative lawn in protest. Could have been the start of Occupy Victoria.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

Editor’s note: the views expressed in this column are those of the writer, not the paper.