miteypen

The Homeless Vote

In Politics on October 25, 2008 at 7:10 pm

The homeless are the dispossessed in America. More than any racial or ethnic group, they are shut out from activities that most of us take for granted. One of the things they don’t have, obviously, is an address. Some use homeless shelters’ addresses or post office boxes as mailing addresses, but these are not always accepted as legitimate addresses. And you need an address to vote. So what is a homeless person who wants to vote to do?

The homeless are ignored in the voting process for many reasons. One is the perception that most people who live on the streets are mentally ill. While it is true that a lot of them are (the National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 25-30% are mentally ill), there are many more who are not. The mentally ill are disregarded even more than the homeless. It is assumed that the mentally ill not only do not care about voting, but that they are not competent to do so. But there are many kinds of mental illnesses, and not all of them are incapacitating, especially if they are being treated with medication.

It is as if we see homeless people as subhuman. They could not possibly be interested in who is President or in local issues and campaigns. Granted, they do have different priorities, but if it seems that they are not interested in voting, it could be because we who are not homeless don’t want to get close enough to find out what they think or want or need. We treat them as pariahs. We don’t want to get close enough to find out anything about them, let alone if they are politically savvy. We suspect that they’re not anyway, and we may be right. Without ready access to newspapers, radios, television sets and computers, how are they going to learn what is going on in the campaigns? it would take one-on-one conversations in order to answer their questions about and sharpen their interest in the political process. And that’s just too close for comfort.

I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that it is morally wrong for them to be ignored and shut out of the political process just because they are homeless.  We need to start recognizing our common humanity. Who becomes President will affect their plight. Not because either of the candidates has promised aid for the homeless, but because one is more committed to those who have little than the other is. McCain is for spending freezes, which will certainly affect the homeless, many of whom receive Social Security of one kind or another. It will also undoubtedly affect the budgets of homeless shelters. My presumption is that the homeless would vote for Obama, but even if they wanted McCain, they still have the right to vote. All they need is the opportunity.

If the truth be told, many of us are at risk for becoming homeless. If we lose our jobs, we only qualify for unemployment insurance for a short amount of time. And unemployment benefits will not pay all of our bills, so we may face foreclosures and repossessions. Without enough money to pay for rent, and with long lines waiting for government-subsidized housing (not to mention cuts in that housing), we may find ourselves without a home. I think this is a fear that lies in the back of the minds of many middle-class and lower-class people.

It’s not pleasant to think that we ourselves may become homeless. But it could happen. At the very least we could be forced to cut back drastically on things like food, utilities and housing. In fact, this is already happening in millions of homes around the country. Many people are floundering. We need to be sensitive to the needs of those who are either homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. Because the truth is, that could someday be our plight as well. If it did happen to us, wouldn’t we want someone to care about us?

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