A group in Kelowna has successfully ensured that this election, anyone who wants to can exercise their democratic right, even those experiencing homelessness.
Barriers often faced by those experiencing homelessness, who do want to vote, include a lack of a permanent address and a government issued ID. These are requirements to vote in Canada.
However now in Kelowna, those who do want to vote but lack these essential requirements can use the Welcome Inn Emergency Shelter address as their own. As well, a completed form, sent by Elections BC, legitimizes their identity using a secondary piece of ID such as a bus pass, or even a pill bottle. Then, after confirming their date of birth verbally, they are allowed to vote in the 2020 BC Provincial Election, alongside other members of the public.
Since they received confirmation on Monday that they can offer this service, the Welcome Inn has been giving the gift of empowerment.
Shey Still, site supervisor and case manager at the Welcome Inn Emergency Shelter, said this has been a long time coming, adding that in past elections, the voices of those experiencing homelessness have not been heard.
“We firmly believe that any resident in British Columbia, whether they have a fixed address or not, should have that fundamental right to choose whether they want to vote or not,” she said.
This is the result of work between the shelter and Elections BC. Administrators at the shelter were inspired by the actions of the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver, who have been running a similar program in the downtown eastside when elections arise.
The Welcome Inn is a 40-bed emergency shelter that operates throughout the winter months. Since COVID-19, they have also been operating a hygiene centre where those experiencing homelessness can shower, clean, wash and dry their laundry, and have access to services.
They see about 40 to 50 people on a daily basis. On a weekly basis, they see about 140 unique individuals — a large part of the population experiencing homelessness in the city.
Many issues worth voting for, Still explained, affect those experiencing homelessness.
“As we know, funding and support services for housing, access to medical and community resources, really all of it, funnels down and directly impacts them. So why not give them the right to vote and have a voice in that, something that impacts their life.”
She said this issue of people not having a voice isn’t unique to Kelowna; it spans across B.C. as well as Canada during federal elections.
That being said, Still admitted some may not show interest in voting. However, the option is now there if they do. Those who do plan on voting have expressed gratitude to the staff at the Welcome Inn.
“We’re super excited about this initiative, it’s a big win for a lot of people in Kelowna… we’re really hopeful that this translates into being something that happens on a regular basis when elections come up,” said Still.
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