The homeless vote

Posted in BC Votes 2009 Campaign Bytes Posted by CBC News on April 30, 2009 09:51 AM |

Campaign BytesHeather RobinsonI walked into the crowded meeting room at Victoria’s Our Place homeless shelter and grabbed one of the few remaining seats. On one side of me: a well-dressed cologne-smelling political-type wearing campaign buttons. On the other side: a weather-beaten man with matted hair and a dirty blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

Before getting started, an organizer announced that there would be coffee on all night and if anyone needed parking space for their shopping carts to go see one of the volunteers. It was one of the most unique all-candidates debates I’d attended.

The issues are what you’d expect at a debate on poverty and homelessness: affordable housing, detox beds, mental health treatment, disability support payments … and the vast majority of the people in that room had first hand experience.

There were some “plants” in the audience … party supporters who were sure to clap (loudly) whenever their candidate spoke. The Green candidate kept referring to “these people” … even when he was speaking to them directly. Not exactly an effective way of breaking the “us” (privileged) vs. “them” (vulnerable) in our society.

When it came time for the audience to ask questions, a line quickly formed with some of our community’s most disempowered voices. One man spoke of being in foster care since the age of two and being abused in many of the 20 foster homes he lived in. One woman leaned over and told me how hard it was to get a job when you are homeless, your clothes were used and you don’t have a washing machine to make them smell nice for a job interview.

The night ended with an uplifting First Nations song that many of Victoria’s homeless sang loud and clear in that space that has formed a safe haven for them. But the reality is that most of the people in that room don’t have valid ID. And because of changes to the Election Act, many of them will find it difficult to vote.

Heather Robinson
CBC News Vancouver