A local homeless encampment in the spring of 2018. File photo by Scott Stanfield.

A local homeless encampment in the spring of 2018. File photo by Scott Stanfield.

No address, no problem: Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness encourages homeless to vote

Homeless voters can use the address of a local shelter or hostel and must make a statutory declaration of residency

When asked if he would be voting in the upcoming municipal election, Tracy Gibson, a homeless man in the Comox Valley, replied, “I probably will…But what would I need to be able to vote?”

For people without a fixed address, the voting process is not always clear, but this election, the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness has stepped up to help.

According to Andrea Cupelli, co-ordinator with CVCEH, those who are experiencing homelessness just need a piece of government-issued identification that includes their signature, as well as the address of a shelter, hostel or other address. They will also be required to sign a statutory declaration of residency on site.

“I think it’s important for everyone to vote, and [people experiencing homelessness] are a segment of our community that may not be aware they can,” said Heather Ney, executive director of the Comox Valley Transition Society. “I would guess that they may have had an inkling that they could, but not really given it a lot of thought – just because they’ve got more pressing issues like where they’re going to sleep tonight or where their next meal is coming from.”

Ney said one of the main problems during election periods for those experiencing homelessness is access to information.

Gibson said he has seen the campaign signs, but hasn’t been following the election and isn’t even sure when it is.

He added that he wasn’t entirely sure how to vote without a fixed address, but he is aware that it is possible.

Cupelli has created small leaflets with information such as important dates and the voting process to be given out to those experiencing homelessness. Members of the coalition will also distribute the leaflets and be available to answer questions at various locations and events such as St. George’s Kitchen and the AHERO Resource Fair on Oct. 17.

Ney said the Comox Valley Transition Society has been talking with their clients at both the Lilli House and Amethyst House about the voting process as well.

Harriet Henderson is currently living in an apartment in Comox, but she has experienced homelessness in the past. She moved into Lilli House, a women’s shelter run by the CVTS, in 2017 and was there for three or four months before she was able to move into her current place.

Though she was homeless during the 2017 B.C. general election, Henderson said she had the opportunity and resources to vote thanks to the supports from Lilli House.

When asked if she is planning on voting in the upcoming election, Henderson replied, “I surely plan on it,” adding that affordable housing and homelessness are the most important issues for her.

“My biggest one is just somewhat dealing with the homeless and the less fortunate. Winter is going to be just around the corner and some of them are sleeping in tents, some of them are sleeping on benches and it’s just sad to see.”

Gibson agrees that affordable housing is the most important issue for him in this election. Gibson is on social assistance due to disability and says the $375 he is allowed for rent each month is not enough considering the high costs of housing in the Valley.

“Whoever’s voted in should more concentrate on housing for the lower income people around Courtenay. I’ve noticed it’s gotten worse in the last while,” he said.

Ney said voting is one of the best ways people experiencing homeless can have an influence on their community. But while some like Henderson and Gibson agree, others aren’t so sure.

Jeffrey Fabian Johnson said he has been homeless in the Comox Valley for four and a half years, and when asked if he is planning on voting in the upcoming election, Johnson responded, “no.”

“No matter what we do, it doesn’t change,” he said. “It hurts like hell.”

The CVCEH is also working to remove another barrier to voting for Comox Valley residents: transportation. While BC Transit is running for free on election day, some local candidates have also put their names forward to provide rides to polling stations. Cupelli said they are currently working on a list of people offering rides on election day.

CVTS will also be providing transportation for clients at both Lilli House and Amethyst House on advance polling days and election day.