By Emily Bedford
Like housing, a voice in policy is a human right that needs to be fought for. Like housing, just because it’s a right doesn’t mean it’s always accessible.
Our electoral process is a representation of the society in which we live, and if certain groups cannot be informed or participate in election regularly, they will inevitably remain at the margins of the policy-making that directly affects them.
The problem is that voting locations are not always welcoming to people experiencing homelessness: individuals report feeling anxious and excluded, ill-informed or face mobility or transportation barriers. Thankfully, the City of Calgary is well-aware of these issues and has sought to find solutions:
- Those without permanent addresses can bring a letter of attestation.
Any shelter staff member can fill out a letter of attestation. In other words, they can vouch for someone’s identity if they do not have a piece of ID or a permanent address. All it requires is the elector’s name and the place they receive services, and a verification signature from the staff member.
2. There are mobile advanced voting locations in easily accessible areas downtown, specifically outside the Calgary Drop-In Centre
Electors could access the advanced voting bus at the beginning of October. This can decrease the anxiety that homeless voters can face from having to disclose their circumstances to polling officers in front of a number of people, and reduces the risk of them being turned away.
3. Information about candidates and their platforms is easily accessible to those with access to internet
Elections Calgary’s Meet the Candidates page is easy to navigate to ensure voters have the opportunity to be well-informed before they place their ballot. Free use of computers with internet connections is available at various shelters and at public libraries.
We’ve learned a lot from holding a mock election last year to prepare for the 2016 federal election, where we spoke face-to-face to those experiencing homelessness about their biggest policy concerns. Among the choices, minimum income, affordable housing, harm reduction and mental health issues were the most prominent. Voter education and having a mobile polling station on-site greatly increased participation.
So what can we do?
You’ve already taken the time to get informed about the issues that face homeless Calgarian voters, and that’s the first step. The next step is to use your vote to advocate for those experiencing homelessness by checking out the positions of the mayoral and councillor candidates on affordable housing, income, harm reduction and mental health issues. We’ve compiled a few of them here, taken from campaign websites.
Calgary Homeless Foundation will continue to advocate for Housing First policies with and for our community. Together, we’ll fight for a home for everyone.