Thursday, Jun 22, 2017
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Op-Ed Columns

'Unhoused' have voting rights, too

"THE vast majority of the homeless have mental issues that I believe would impair their ability to make an informed and intelligent decision on the issues and candidates to vote for." - Letter to the editor in The Blade, Oct. 2.

The last time we heard this logic it was directed at women and blacks to prevent them from voting.

Now it's about the homeless, those I prefer to call more accurately the "unhoused." Instead of outrage, people broke into group discussions to judge the merits of the writer's premise.

People were not discussing those who have housing with the same "mental issues." The debate was about the weakest, easiest targets, the unhoused with "mental issues" who can't fight back.

People were not discussing the voting capabilities of alcoholics, drug addicts, the unemployed, or victims of domestic violence who have housing. Just the unhoused alcoholics, drug addicts, the unemployed, or victims of domestic violence.

Besides, what constitutes an informed and intelligent electoral decision anyway?

Every political party believes you are making an uninformed, ignorant decision if you vote for the opponent. With this standard, we all demonstrate our ignorance every election.

1Matters.org and Tent City have helped people with and without housing to register to vote since the start in 1990. But for some reason, our work this year is "news."

I blame both political campaigns, as our mission fits the "story lines" at the local level. Our unhoused friends found themselves used by both parties, equally. Democrats mistakenly believe unhoused people are either "pro-Barack Obama," or can be swayed or influenced in that direction.

Republicans mistakenly believe the unhoused are illegal voters shipped in from wherever to vote "pro-Obama" or at least ignorant enough to be influenced in that direction.

I believe the ignorant ones are the ones who believe the unhoused are so ignorant. Both campaigns should be ashamed.

It got so nuts that recently we were videotaped getting out of our vans, and confronted by a Republican observer with a video camera, demanding to know how I knew "those people" are from Lucas County.

I asked him if he asks "those people" who have homes the same question.

Because of literacy and other issues, I personally helped 30 to 40 people through the entire voting process. Every move and every conversation was monitored. We had nothing to hide. Had there been partisanship, one of the many election officials observing the voting would have raised a huge flag.

The nonpartisan nature of 1Matters.org is best evidenced by our volunteers, who are Republican, Democrat, and Independent. None of us cares who anyone votes for. We just want to be sure everyone matters and has the chance to vote.

Finally, sanity returned at the local level, rejecting the story lines of the national campaigns. After a meeting by local election officials, helping a person without housing register to vote was declared legal, just as helping a person with housing register to vote is legal.

There were no partisan observers on the second day I took the unhoused to vote early near downtown Toledo.

Out of 226 voters we took there, about 200 were already in the Lucas County Board of Elections registration database. Because of problems with voting in the 2004 presidential election, I personally checked the registration forms of nearly all 226 to make sure there were no errors that might disqualify their vote.

Just like early voters with housing, Internet service, cable television, newspapers, and C-span, 226 unhoused friends were informed about the issues and candidates and they voted early.

Many other unhoused citizens living in Lucas County are undecided voters. They plan to wait until the 1Matters.org Tent City next weekend to get more information on the presidential candidates before they vote.

So, candidates, like any constituency, if you want the votes of the hundreds of local unhoused, undecided voters, and the votes of hundreds of Tent City volunteers, come tell us what you will do to create affordable housing. Prove that one person, every person, matters.

As a community, we are blessed and so much better than most. Toledo is a remarkable, loving, giving community that shares so much with those who matter, whether they are housed or unhoused.

As for voting, people who are unhoused are told daily by society they do not matter. To see them walk out of the early voting center after they had cast their ballots, standing taller, smiling ear to ear, knowing that they do matter, that's the same feeling you have after voting.

God bless America.

Ken Leslie is a longtime advocate for the homeless in Toledo and founder of the annual Toledo Tent City, which raises awareness about the unhoused.

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