Some homeless campers being evicted on Sept. 20 from a tent city set up beside the Hearthstone Place on Gladys Avenue. People living without a fixed address can have a community agency vouch for their identity before they vote. (Patrick Penner photo.)

Elections Canada trying to help the homeless vote

Reduced barriers for people voting without a fixed address this federal election

It will be easier to vote if you’re homeless this year than in the last federal election.

Abbotsford’s Elections Canada office is trying to inform the city’s homeless population about regulatory changes for this federal election which lower the voting barriers for people living without a fixed address.

“It’s a significant legislative change. They are accepting a much broadened definition for identification,” said Bobbi Spark, a community relations officer for Elections Canada.

People living on the streets can now confirm their identity by getting social agencies or organizations to vouch for their residency by either accompanying them to a polling station or preparing a letter.

Elections Canada offices around the country are doing the same in an effort to make it easier to vote for the country’s estimated 200,000 homeless. Abbotsford had 233 people counted as homeless in the 2018 survey released by the city.

Prior to the last federal election in 2015, the Conservative government restricted the ability of someone to vouch for a person without identification or a permanent address. That decision was reversed when the Liberals won the election.

Spark has been reaching out to agencies that work with the homeless for their help in acting as information hubs for potential voters.

Homeless people face significant challenges in voting, says Jesse Wegenast, a pastor with Abbotsford’s 5 and 2 Ministries.

“All of the normal correspondence that comes to you around election time via the mail to your home – your polling stations, information about advanced voting – if you’re living outside, you simply don’t receive any of that information,” he said.

Wegenast said, although the Election Canada’s efforts to expand the vote to disenfranchised populations are helpful, parts of the community still face barriers.

“The disenfranchisement runs fairly deep,” he said. “You have fewer opportunities to educate yourself on party policy, fewer opportunities to attend a debate.”

“Even if you’d like to vote but are not in possession of a government-issued ID, although it isn’t a barrier on paper [anymore], it’s still a psychological barrier.”

Spark said she has been impressed with the homeless community’s level of interest in this election.

“It’s been quite surprising when you talk to these folks who live homeless, how interested they are in politics and how excited they are to be able to vote.”

Elections Canada also has communications officers working to increase voter turnout in the city’s Indigenous, senior and youth populations.

RELATED: Abbotsford homeless count could be improved: harm reduction worker

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