British Columbia

Meet the man trying to get marginalized voters to the polls in Vancouver

The City of Vancouver is expanding voting opportunities in this municipal election. For the first time it has added homeless shelters and social service drop-in centres to the list of voting locations.

'It's hard to prioritize voting over immediate needs,' says election outreach worker

Paul Hendren has hit the pavement since June encouraging people in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver to vote so they have a voice in the municipal election. (Paul Hendren)

Paul Hendren has been walking the sidewalks of the Downtown Eastside since June trying to convince everyone he meets to vote.

But it's not an easy job for the City of Vancouver's election outreach staffer. 

"Some people have a lot going on with their lives and when they tell you their stories you understand why it's hard to prioritize voting over your immediate needs," Hendren said in between handing out voter information booklets in Oppenheimer Park. 

For the first time the city has added homeless shelters and social service drop-in centres to the list of voting locations.

It hopes that the pop-up mobile centres reach populations that are often marginalized.

Paul Hendren at Oppenheimer Park talking to voters about who they will vote for in the upcoming Vancouver election and where to vote. (Paul Hendren)

"I think what is great about this new system is that people can vote in the place that they are comfortable in and where they already know the staff, so there is that level of trust," Henderson said. 

In May, the City of Vancouver updated its election bylaw to allow voting at special voting facilities, such as hospitals and long-term care centres. It now includes smaller facilities, such as shelters and drop-in centres including the field house in Oppenheimer Park.

It brings the total number of special voting facilities to 90, up from 51 in the 2014 election.

Breaking barriers

For Hendren, it means including neighbourhoods with lower voter turnout. 
"Downtown and Strathcona had a lower voter turnout than other areas [in the last election]," he said.

"Some of the reasons that people don't vote include a lack of information or that it can be too confusing," he added.

City of Vancouver election staff have been handing these booklets out to people in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, encouraging them to vote. (City of Vancouver)

Another barrier in the past has been that eligible voters who are homeless may not have the right Identification because they needed to have a fixed address.

The city now allows people with no fixed address to sign a declaration form that includes the address of the shelter where they live.

Giving a voice and perspective 

For those who live and work in the Downtown Eastside, voting in a municipal election lets them support candidates who recognize the complex issues in their neighbourhood. 

"Often times people immediately say there is a glaring housing issue, but it's not just housing, some people here need more than housing, they need to be cared for," said Bob Pearson who works at a community centre in the area.

Hendren is quick to flip open the election booklet and dog ear a page that shows candidate profiles and another showing which voting stations are open on which days.

"I really hope that people feel like they can change the system by getting involved," Hendren said.

Advanced voting begins today in 12 locations and various mobile stations, depending on the day.

CBC is hosting a Vancouver mayoral debate on Oct. 17. It airs live on Radio One at  9:05 a.m. on The Early Edition and will also be live-streamed on our website and on our Facebook page.

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