THE BLOG

Can Homelessness Sway a Presidential Election?

10/15/2012 09:05 am ET | Updated Dec 15, 2012

Every four years, some new American demographic group gets their 15 minutes of fame during the Presidential election cycle. Also known as the swing voters, they are the target group for election ads and Presidential rallies. Remember the Reagan Democrats? Soccer Moms? NPR Republicans? These groups supposedly dramatically influenced the result of a Presidential election.

This year some experts think the swing voters are the purple people, those middle-class, suburban families who neither lean extremely red nor extremely blue.

Whatever the designation, or color of people that experts apparently deem influential, groups mobilize their voting base in order to have some political influence. From new voters trying to rock the election outcome, to older voters who are worried about their medical benefits.

For years, advocates for people who are homeless have done the same. They have visited homeless shelters, affordable housing buildings, and drop-in centers in order to register to vote those Americans living on the streets.

In Los Angeles, the agency I run hosts a polling place right where people who are homeless live. In New York City, the more than 45,000 people living in homeless shelters have the opportunity to register to vote. Likewise, in Washington D.C., people living on the streets are also being registered.

Those who work toward ending homelessness in this country know that the person sitting in the Oval Office has powerful influence over funding and policies directed toward homeless Americans -- from housing and medical care, to emergency assistance.

So, can small voting registration drives among people who are homeless really have political sway, especially when only 10 percent of homeless Americans vote?

Consider this: in 2010, more than 600,000 Americans were deemed homeless in a point-in-time count when communities tallied homelessness in a span of a week. During that same year, more than 1.6 million Americans were homeless throughout 52 weeks of the year.

Is 600,000 a significant number? During the Presidential election in 2000, that number could have influenced an election since the difference between Republican and Democrat votes were less than 600,000. Of course, this country elects a President based on state electoral votes rather than a popular vote, but in some states the difference of tens of thousands of votes can sway an outcome.

No wonder why political activists on both the left and right are pushing for or against Voter Reform Laws that would require photo identification, proof of citizenship, or eliminate same-day voter registration. The barriers to vote would increase for those people living on the fringe of society, like homeless Americans.

Organizations, like the National Coalition for the Homeless, are working hard to help people who are homeless register to vote and are fighting voter laws that make voting more difficult.

The democratic concept of mobilizing voters is as American as apple pie and a white picket fence. I think helping homeless Americans influence a political campaign so that they too could have a white picket fence in front of their very own home would truly be the American Dream.