Alameda County works to increase voter turnout among homeless people

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Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless, or ACHCH, is currently working to increase voter turnout among the county’s homeless population, including about 1,108 individuals in Berkeley.

The ACHCH Community/Consumer Advisory Board, or ACHCH CCAB, plans to carry out voter registration drives and voting forums for those experiencing homelessness. These will serve to educate members of the homeless community on issues that are important to them and provide them with voting resources. Dates for these events will surface closer to the June and November elections, according to Alameda County Health Care Services Agency spokesperson Jerri Randrup.

“ACHCH’s goal is that people experiencing homelessness enjoy the same human and civil rights as persons with permanent housing, including the right to vote and to be counted in the census,” Randrup said in an email.

ACHCH CCAB helped 50 people register to vote on National Voter Registration Day through its 2018 homeless-focused voter registration program.

Additionally, according to Randrup, 40 people attended ACHCH CCAB’s 2018 “Housing, Homelessness and the 2018 Elections” forum.

“I think it is important for everyone to vote as an exercise of your right’s as a citizen,” said homeless activist Mike Lee in an email. “Being able to vote is way easier then trying to hide (from) the police who (will) ticket you for (being) in certain areas.”

A person experiencing homelessness can register to vote and vote in all 50 states. They can register to vote at the place where they spend the most time, as long as the description is clear enough. According to the Official Election Site of Alameda County, these locations can include cross streets, parks and local landmarks.

While homeless people can vote, voting materials are not directly accessible to California’s homeless population, according to Randrup. She added that outreach to the homeless community — including flyering, reaching out to shelters, clinics and service centers, and involving community advocates — is a major part of ACHCH’s mission.

“Voting reflects a return to community for people who are excluded or disenfranchised,” Randrup said in an email. “It can also be considered as a healing step in rebuilding one’s personal health and in strengthening our communities.”

The ACHCH program will also partner with the Alameda County Public Health Department’s Voting Matters initiative to equip those experiencing homelessness with voting resources.

The Voting Matters program was created in 2016 to encourage Alameda County residents to participate in the voting process and make “informed decisions on issues that affect their communities,” according to the public health department’s website. The initiative especially aims to empower communities that have been historically marginalized.

There is a direct correlation between voting and the health of a community, according to the department. Therefore, the Voting Matters initiative looks to help Alameda County reach its highest level of health, which is influenced by the conditions its residents live in and the experiences they have.

“Voting is only one small part of the effort to abolish extreme poverty,” Lee said. “There must be a very public challenge to the dominant narrative through education and direct action.”

Homeless community members generally pick up voting materials at the library, according to Lee, who added that homeless individuals are generally aware of where and when voting is taking place.

Despite the availability of resources, Lee said homeless people are not encouraged to vote in Berkeley as much as he would like, as candidates do not typically reach out to homeless communities.

“The act of voting is a civil right,” Randrup said in an email. “It also reflects a human need for belonging, connection and power in the individual’s community.”

Contact Skylar Schoemig at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sschoemig_dc.