The minority vote and the youth vote are important – but so is the homeless vote
Support their rights this November
I met Rambo on Fifth Avenue.
We sat on the sidewalk together, just one block down from the Trump Tower. The divide between the people moving along the sidewalk and us two, perched on its edges, is like looking through a window. You can see society functioning; tourists taking photos, suits shouting into their phones, and couples laughing, but it functions with you on the fringes.
Trump Tower has become the centre of the political world just recently – it’s where Donald Trump holds many of his bragging press conferences and where journalists flock to report on his incredible rise to the Republican nomination.
But despite his proximity to the tower, Rambo has little prospect of having a say when the nation decides on whether Trump or Hillary Clinton should be President come November.
An estimated 10 percent of the homeless voted in the 2008 election. Or, to put it another way, 90 percent of the estimated 3.5 million homeless people in the US didn’t vote.
Though technically those with no reported home are not denied the right to vote, they face various obstacles preventing them. ID regulations, education, and even stumbling blocks like being unable to make it to the registration office.
These turnout figures might suggest to some politicians and their campaign managers that the homeless vote is insignificant. That alone should prick us into realizing the opposite – and acting accordingly.
The number of New Yorkers in homeless shelters has risen by 43 percent over the past four years. These are the people who get hit first by changes in the economy and who get hit hardest when government services are rolled back. Issues like affordable housing, healthcare and welfare support are less abstract when you live on the streets.
Some will conclude that the homeless just don’t care about voting. Anecdotally, this doesn’t seems to be the case.
Rambo, a veteran who registered to vote for the Republican Party, certainly has views. He’s voted Republican since he was 21 and doesn’t plan on changing it, despite Trump.
“Trump, I don’t know. Every President just wants their seat I guess. This guy is too much. If Hillary wins it’s because she’s got experience,” he said. “If Trump wins, it’s because he’s got money.”
Sometimes, the homeless don’t vote because they have reasons just like us. Within the 90 percent who didn’t in 2008 was Michael, aged 43. As we spoke on a bench near Central Park he explained he hadn’t voted since 9/11 and didn’t plan to anytime soon. Each election he’d missed wasn’t because he was lazy or out of the loop, as many would assume, but because he was unhappy with the candidates: “They’re both as bad as each other. I’m registered to vote, but I just don’t like either of them.”
Steph, who I met by the Roosevelt cable car, didn’t even know she could vote. With no permanent residence or address she’d assumed she wasn’t able to register.
This isn’t the case though: those without a permanent residence can describe the place they sleep regularly in four lines, or even add the address of the closest church.
As I told this to Steph, her face lit up: “Oh I’d be voting for Hillary. Definitely Hillary. I don’t like Trump. I’m going to vote next time now.”
Megan Hustings, the executive director of the National Coalition of the Homeless, is all too familiar with stories like Steph’s. Though in 1984 the Pitts v Black case ensured the right to vote for homeless New Yorkers, many citizens just don’t know about this victory. “For that reason, we work to register to vote and do our best to educate them about what candidates and issues they care about,” said Hustings.
Right now the Coalition is distributing voting materials to the homeless across New York City, targeting both clients and popular shelters.
The vote is a basic human right. You can assume that the homeless have bigger issues to worry about, but just voting increases their participation in society and can lead to much bigger steps towards normalcy. The homeless have no less of a right to vote than your neighbor, your teacher or your boss.
I will always remember Rambo. He said Donald Trump can visit him anytime; he’ll be on his corner, between Fifth Avenue and 55th Street: “Just make sure Trump knows who I am. Tell him I’m on this corner everyday!”
I think it’s time that Trump did. The homeless are not the dregs of society. They deserve a vote, an opinion, and help to get them both.