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Dublin: 14°C Tuesday 28 June 2022

'They're not seen and definitely not heard': Why it's time for a homeless 'Rock the Vote' in Ireland

There are more than 6,300 homeless adults in Ireland and services say it is often difficult for people to register.

IT’S TOO LATE for GE2020, but ahead of the next election there should be a push to facilitate voting among the homeless community, TheJournal.ie has been told. 

William Cummings, founder of the Babs empowerment project, a free listening service provided though Inner City Helping Homeless, has been speaking to rough sleepers throughout the campaign about their voting preferences. This was part of a project run by TheJournal.ie with the assistance of a number of homeless services. 

“Some of them are engaged with the election, some are quite strong on what they want and there’s a few there that would vote for certain people. They want somebody who will go out and talk to them and look at what they need changed,” he said. 

Cummings was one of two volunteers who helped people fill in TheJournal.ie’s Homeless Postcards, which asked questions about voting habits and messages for the next government. 

He said many people told him they were not registered, or did not know whether they were.

According to the government’s latest figures, more than 6,300 adults in Ireland are experiencing homelessness. Whenever the next general election comes around, Cummings said he would like to see a comprehensive plan to facilitate voting in this community, like a ‘Homeless Rock the Vote’. 

“What I’d like to see, if we were really serious about listening, would be to go out and make sure they can all vote. Find out what is the reason they can’t make sure everyone is registered, that they have the information they need to decide and make sure they can get there,” he said.

We’d definitely help them achieve that. It’s too late now for this election but maybe the next one.

People who are living in short-term homeless accommodation such as single-night hostels or B&Bs, or those living on the streets, will find it hard to obtain the proof of address needed. There are workarounds for this which would allow people to register, but many are not aware of them. 

Those who have a secure placement would be able to register that address, but there are other obstacles – among them that information about how to register is not freely available to them.

For others, literacy difficulties are obstacles. 

There are classes available for people experiencing homeless, but Cummings said all of these pieces would have to be linked up. 

“I think if you were to do a drive like that, about 80% of the people would vote which is huge, anybody who I spoke to who has a vote told me they’ll use it.” 

He said most people were eager to share their views with the postcard project. 

“People actually loved it. Myself and Pat went out over two evenings and did it. I thought it was a great way to get to talk to people, to sit down with them.

“The outreach teams went out separate to us and we, of course, got a few people saying ‘I don’t want to answer that’, asking if they need to give their names and we told them ‘no no, we don’t need that’.

(TheJournal.ie included a note on each card to let people know we did not need their names, just their views.)

“It was great to get people’s interactions, and some of it was quite funny, you know. Some of the jokes were funny. I was racing against Gerry (a case manager for ICHH) in here because I had three votes and he had three votes at one stage. And then I ended up with six.

But it was sad to hear some of their comments. One of the guys said to me ‘I’m going to vote for you because you’re the first person to speak to me in a week. Everybody else just walks past or puts 20 cent in the cup’.

“So I stayed. Like, we were around for hours. We did it over two days and said we would stay there with them and talk if they needed it and try to get more people to come into us here.”

One person said they were voting for a particular politician because they believed they were strong on human rights and would stand up for the homeless. 

Some were looking for a change in government but Cummings said many were undecided.

“I asked people what are the things they’d like to see happening and some didn’t know who to vote for, but they had a lot to say about what services should be, the wraparound services, safety is a massive thing, I think it’s on almost every single one of those cards,” he said. 

The impression I got is they don’t believe they are seen, they’re definitely not heard. They’re thinking ‘It’s not going to change for us so why should I vote?’

He said people experiencing homelessness are not often asked what they think the solutions should be, and when they were asked, they had a lot to say. 

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“I’d love for the government to actually take them [the cards] and read them because I don’t think there’s one that says they had a good experience in a hostel or in a B&B – it’s all negative.

“There’s 35 maybe 40 there and we speak to over 100 people on a nightly basis and they all say the same thing – there’s no empathy, there’s no humanity. The system is broken.”

The postcards featured in the article were distributed to a number of hostels across Dublin and volunteers with Babs, a listening service provided through Inner City Helping Homeless, also filled in the cards with rough sleepers in the city over two evenings. Some of the cards were filled in with the assistance of or by volunteers in cases where the person was not comfortable with reading and writing themselves, or they were out on the streets.

We sent the postcards to a number of services outside Dublin – we’ll be sharing those on the site and across our social media platforms later today. 

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