Blog by Laura Calenda, Chief Marketing and Philanthropy Officer at Crossroads Rhode Island
How do the homeless vote if they don’t have a permanent address?
Where do you vote if you don’t have a permanent address? How do you exercise your constitutional right when you sleep in a homeless shelter, on a park bench or under a highway overpass? When your “mailing” address is the corner of Broad and West Franklin? When your identification was stolen from your backpack years ago?
“About three-quarters of those experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island are of voting age, but their voices are often under-represented in state and local elections,” says Karen Santilli, President of Crossroads Rhode Island, the state’s largest provider of housing and services to the homeless. “The homeless face unique barriers to voting that the rest of us just don’t have.”
Voter Education and Registration Event to be held at Crossroads
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office is striving to change all that. Gorbea’s office will be conducting voter education and registration at Crossroads’ Harrington Hall location on August 10 from 6-7:30 p.m. Located in Cranston, Harrington Hall is the largest men’s shelter in the state, housing up to 112 prospective voters nightly.
A second voter education and registration event will be held at Crossroads’ 160 Broad Street, Providence location on August 15 from 10-11:30 a.m. In addition to a 40-person women’s shelter, Crossroads’ headquarters at 160 Broad Street also provides permanent supportive housing for up to 192 formerly homeless men and women. That’s more than 230 prospective voters!
Helping the Homeless Overcome Voting Barriers
“Many are surprised to learn that you don’t have to have a home to register to vote. Homelessness should not prevent eligible voters from exercising their important civic right,” said Gorbea. “Rhode Islanders without a permanent address may register to vote from the address of their local board of canvassers or may provide their local board of canvassers of an address where they are commonly located.”
In addition to identifying a place of residence, prospective voters also need to provide identification. As part of the services it provides, Crossroads staff helps clients who would like to vote fill out the appropriate paperwork. Earlier this spring, the city of Providence also announced a new program designed to help people, including those experiencing homelessness, get city identification.
“Individuals experiencing homelessness are among the most marginalized in our society,” says Santilli. “Here at Crossroads, we believe that voting provides them with a great opportunity for their voices to be heard."