British Columbia

Advocates plan to help the homeless vote in upcoming municipal election

A group of advocates in Kamloops has banded together to help vouch for the identify of those living on the streets on election day.

Kamloops homeless advocate Renee Stein says there are many barriers besides obvious lack of identification

Stein says that beyond not having proper identification, homeless people struggle to stay informed and get themselves to the polling station. (CBC)

Homeless people have long struggled to vote in B.C. due to strict rules when it comes to identification and permanent addresses.

But looking ahead to the upcoming municipal election in B.C., a group of advocates in Kamloops has banded together to help vouch for the identify of those living on the streets on election day.

Renee Stein is the program co-ordinator for Out of the Cold, which offers shelter, meals and clothing to the homeless two nights a week. She and others will be at polling stations on Oct. 20 to help identity those they recognize.

"Though their voice might not be large, I think it's really important, not just for their own issues, but just to feel that sense of inclusion within our community," Stein said.

"We'll not only be able to identify, but also to be able to provide that mental health support and just that supportive smile."

Barriers to voting

Prior to election day, Stein and her colleagues are working to help people become informed about the candidates and their issues. Stein says that with most news being shared online nowadays, it's harder for those on the streets to access important information.

"They don't have the same access to the internet, the radio, to television, to news papers," she said.

Stein says part of the information sharing, is letting people know where to find a polling station if they do decide to vote and then providing the transportation or bus fare to get there.

Another important barrier to consider, Stein says, is the anxiety those who live on the street may have when it comes to entering the polling station and being questioned about identification.

The issue

It's probably no surprise shelter and housing is the the most important election issue when Stein talks to people on the street.

"There are a lot of decisions that are made for them, without them, and I think that's something they need to have a voice in as to where they want to be housed and how they want to be housed," she said.

There are currently no permanent shelters in Kamloops. Beyond that, Stein says, there are a lot of married and long-term couples living on the streets and no supportive housing that allows couples.

"Often that person is their only support person … so asking them to give up their support person in order to get housing, I think, is nothing short of traumatic."

Listen to the full interview with Renee Stein:

With files from Daybreak Kamloops