Residents of The Portal shelter were given a ride to the polls Monday as part of a special effort to empower them during the federal election.
Christopher Hunt, member of Chilliwack Citizens for Change group, came up with the idea, engaged like-minded folks, and made it happen with the help of the Vote Bus 2019.
The plan was actually loosely hatched the week before, as Hunt spoke at city hall at the end of the almost six-hour public hearing on The Portal’s permit extension, reminding the community that residents of the portal were indeed full “citizens” with equal rights.
There were questions about the voting rules initially, and most assumed it was going to be impossible.
“Most of us had erroneously thought that you must have a permanent residence to vote; also, as many who suffer homelessness lose their ID over time, it is generally believed they cannot possibly vote.
“It turned out none of that was true,” Hunt said.
He and other members of CCFC had visited the shelter and made some connections so they forged ahead with the nascent ‘get out the vote’ plan for the vulnerable citizens.
“As rhetoric against the shelter, and against issues of homelessness heated up in our community, culminating in the epic saga of a city council meeting last Tuesday, some of the language used became dehumanizing.
“I wanted to counter that message, even after the 18-month extension vote, with a reaffirmation that these folks are also equal citizens within our town and our country.”
Hunt and others recognized that providing the chance to vote offered them an immediate way to “reconnect with society, to quietly assert or reclaim their place in the decisions that affect their lives” just by voting, in a way some can’t imagine.
As with all CCFC initiatives this one was completely non-partisan.
“Certainly, some there felt disenfranchised and were politely not at all interested in voting,” Hunt said.
But more than a dozen people were definitely interested and seemed happy they had a ride.
“One man expressed to me how intimidating it can be to enter such an official place as a voting station after having spent time on the streets,” Hunt recounted.
Initially, they had 14 people who thought they might like to take the opportunity to go to vote on the Vote Bus.
“We helped fill in the forms, assessed their ID or lack of it, and realized we had seven or eight that would require a ‘voucher’ in order to vote. That’s when we made a couple of volunteer call-out posts within the broader CCFC page looking for vouchers from the same neighbourhood. Again, people came through for us!”
When Election Day arrived, along for the Vote Bus ride were a group of vouchers, some “vote buddies,” and volunteers.
“We threw this initiative together in under a week, so imagine what we might have accomplished with more time,” Hunt added.
Now they have a model for the future.
“Anything we achieved was a success. Having us show up to show support for the residents and offering them an equal voice in the election was an important gesture,” Hunt concluded. “Thank you to every single person who helped out with this in any small or large way at all.”
They are already planning ahead for next time to include all shelters, and lining up volunteers to vouch for them if necessary.