Protect the Homeless and Their Right to Vote

In 1992, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) began a campaign to encourage those lacking housing to vote. NCH with the slogan, "You Donít Need a Home to Vote" continues this program and recently sponsored National Homeless Voter Registration Week between September 22 Ė 28, 2002. The purpose of this event was to schedule an actual date to help the homeless with the registration project.

The NCH advocates that the homeless be granted the right to vote regardless of whether they have housing. According to the NCH web site, the homeless face obstacles that prevent them from voting. For example, thirty states oblige citizens to list a place of residency for registration purposes . . . . 1 The NCH in fact is fighting for written laws that will legally protect the voting rights of the homeless.

Louise Fawcett, former Assistant General Secretary from the Womenís Division, works very closely with the homeless and the fight to get them registered to vote. Currently, Fawcett volunteers for the homeless at the Washington Square United Methodist Church in New York City. Pastor Bryan Hooper stated that they expanded the efforts of their church and began a program to help the homeless register to vote. Unfortunately, they faced many obstacles and it has been a very hard struggle for them. The church set up a post office box address in order for the homeless to receive mail, but most of the homeless they worked with did not trust the government enough to get involved. Also, many of the applicants were former felons or illegal immigrants and thus could not vote. Their hopes were to register at least a few dozen homeless to vote but they could only register five people. Next year the church is hoping to work on educating their participants on the naturalization process and finding ways to help felons become eligible to vote.

Certain states do not allow felons or even former felons to be granted the right to vote even at times when the crimes committed were minor offenses. To combat this dilemma, Representative John Conyers (Michigan) reintroduced a bill that would protect a prisonerís and ex-prisonerís basic right to vote.2 Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, an organization working to protect prisonersí rights, stated that prisoners should have voting rights to help them "reenter" society.3 The homeless too should not be treated as societyís outcasts but should be made to feel that they have a role to play in shaping this countryís future.

 

Action:

Contact the National Coalition for the Homeless to find out how you can support voting rights for those living in shelters at http://www.nationalhomeless.org/vote2002  or call (202)-737-6444.

Let us know your stateís position on the voting rights of former felons. Fax the United Methodist Womenís Division at (202) 488-5681.

 


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