Credit: Michael Bentley

Homeless Voters Get Ready for Election Day

October 6, 2016

It’s about a month away from election day and the push to register people to vote is on. The last day to register in Massachusetts is October 19, and one organization is focused on getting a special population ready to cast a ballot in November—the homeless.

At check-in time at women’s the shelter at the Pine Street Inn Boston, Gertrude Torres sat with her bags and purse. She comes here often, but she says this day was special.

 “I made sure that I got the ride back here to be back in time, because I really want to register to vote,” she said.

Torres, who is homeless, plans to vote in November. It’s something she hasn’t done in a long time.

“I had voted in Hyde Park once but that was over 20 years ago, and I think it’s so important to vote," she said. "I want to vote this year and I want to keep voting. I want my voice to be heard.”

Volunteers and staff at the Pine Street Inn are trying to make sure Torres and the nearly 700 other homeless people who come to the men's and women’s shelters have that chance. They’re registering anyone who wants to vote in the coming election.

Pine Street Inn President Lyndia Downie says check-in time is the perfect opportunity to correct some common misconceptions.

“One of the things that happens to people when they’re homeless is you lose everything," Downie said. "And you start to feel disenfranchised from everything, including your civic duty and obligation to vote and be a citizen, and we're trying to help people understand that this is one step back to being part of what everybody else does.”

“Part of the reason that we started this is that we heard from guests that they couldn’t vote," she added. "And that they were told because they didn’t have an address that they couldn’t vote. That’s not true. You can vote if you’re homeless. You can use the Pine Street Inn. We also heard from people who had been in jail or prison that they can’t vote. That’s not true in Massachusetts. You can vote. You have every legal right to vote and we wanted to make it easy for them.”

Volunteers from the Boston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority helped make the process easier.

“We’ve been providing service to Pine Street for over 30 years now," said Monique Carter, Delta Sigma Theta's chapter president. "We marched for the right to vote, so it’s an honor to assist people in registering.”

It’s not enough to just register. Downie says they’ll help people get to the polls. She believes the stakes are especially high for homeless people.

“People here have a lot to lose in this election and they should be paying attention and they are impacted in many ways by government policies, more impacted than a lot of other people,” she said.

Torres says she won’t miss out on election day,

“I think a lot of people in the women’s shelter don’t realize they can have a voice and we can," she said. "That’s what I want. I want to have a voice.”

Thanks to volunteers and staff at the Pine Street Inn, she will. 


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