Due to an intersection of barriers, such as unaffordable and quality housing, health care, and education, California’s unhoused population has significantly increased during the pandemic, and will likely be a topic on a lot of voters’ minds as they head to the polls this June. As it should be.
People have a right to shelter and food, health care, and an education; but unfortunately, there are some candidates running for office who will play politics with the homeless population to scare Californians into voting for policies that won’t solve the root causes of homelessness.
It is imperative that we show up for our unhoused neighbors this June by voting for leaders and policies that are committed to addressing the inequalities that cause homelessness. We also need to empower those who have firsthand experience with homelessness in our state; those who understand the causes for homelessness and how to prevent it: our unhoused population. For us to elect leaders who know how to solve California’s issues, we need to get as many Californians involved—and that includes our unhoused neighbors.
Unhoused Californians, just like other Californians, have a right to vote for the policies and leaders they feel will best represent their needs. But as you can imagine, unhoused individuals often don’t have access to information needed to partake in our democratic process, so it’s up to us to share what we know. After all, elected leaders make decisions that directly affect their lives, so it’s only right that unhoused voices and opinions are included in that conversation.
Information to Share With Your Unhoused Neighbors
There are four requirements to register to vote in California, and having an address isn’t one of them. The requirements:
- You are a citizen of the United States and a resident of California.
- You are at least 18 years of age on the day of the election.
- You are “not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court.”
- You are “not currently serving a state or federal prison term for the conviction of a felony.”
Unhoused Californians can register to vote by the May 23 deadline with an address where they spend most of their time, and this includes shelters and other forms of temporary housing. However, unhoused people cannot register to vote using a P.O. box or a business address. If folks have a state ID or a driver’s license, they can easily register to vote online at https://couragecaliforniainstitute.org/voter-tools.
How to Register to Vote WIthout an ID
Without a state-issued ID, they’ll have to print, fill out, and mail the voter-registration application, which can be found at RegisterToVote.ca.gov. Unhoused folks without access to a printer can also visit their local elections office to complete the application. Locations can be found at https://couragecaliforniainstitute.org/#counties.
Voting Barriers of California’s Unhoused
Getting unhoused folks registered to vote is just one piece of a very complex puzzle. There are many other barriers that may prevent unhoused people from actually getting to the polls and casting their vote, such as lack of information about eligibility, how to vote, and how to arrange for transportation. The solutions to these issues aren’t easy, because they require trust and empathy for people’s situations and circumstances, but a great place to start is by sharing information.
Information for how and where to vote in California’s 58 counties can be found at www.couragecaliforniainstitute.org. And if you develop relationships with your unhoused neighbors, you can even offer to turn in their ballot for them. In 2016, AB 1921 expanded returning other people’s ballots to any person, not just family members. According to California’s attorney general in 2020, voters must be aware of the specific person who is returning their ballot, so we don’t advise that you collect ballots from folks you don’t have an established relationship with.
While you’re out getting to know and sharing information with your unhoused neighbors, let us know if you come across other barriers that people are experiencing with voting. Email us at [email protected] and we’ll add them to this guide.
For us to have a democracy that is truly representative of the people it serves, we need to get all eligible voters to show up to the polls this June—including our unhoused community. Together, we have the power to elect leaders who will address the reasons for homelessness and not scapegoat one of our most vulnerable communities.