[Hpn] *Homeless Voting Rights Project of National Coalition for the Homeless fw fw

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Thu, 28 Sep 2000 16:29:04 -0700 (PDT)

http://newsfinder.arinet.com/fpweb/fp.dll/$stargeneral/htm/x_dv.htm/_ibyx/cg0302 6/_itox/starnet/_svc/news/_Id/678553211/_k/PVTFk1uPWfAx69ja FWD Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Sep 26, 2000 LAW MURKY, BUT OFFICIALS SAY HOMELESS CAN VOTE By DAVID GRAM Associated Press Writer MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ Morgan Brown <morganbrown@hotmail.com> wants Vermont's mental health system to ``end its dependency on the use of force and coercion.'' He wants Vermont's politicians to ``reach out to people with disabilities, reach out to people with psychiatric disabilities, and people who are homeless.'' And Brown knows that the first step toward achieving any of these public goals is to vote. ``Voting is just one step, but it's a step. Some people say their vote doesn't count. The only time it doesn't count, that it doesn't matter, is when you don't vote.'' Trouble is, state law defines a voter as ``a person who is domiciled'' in a city or town ``as evidenced by an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the town indefinitely and to return there if temporarily absent.'' And Morgan Brown is homeless. The last time Brown moved back to Montpelier in 1997, after a year in Barton, he went to City Hall to register to vote with some trepidation. Brown had no permanent address, but told the city clerk's office he could be reached care of the Another Way drop-in center on Barre Street. ``They were fine with that, they were great.'' That sort of flexibility by town and city clerks is the norm statewide, said Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz. Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy concurred. ``I think as long as they give me an address as to where they are living, they would have no problem voting,'' she said. ``It doesn't have to be an apartment house; it could be under a bridge or something.'' But those sorts of accommodations are not laid out in state law. And Markowitz said the absence of law on the subject means that homeless person's voting rights aren't really protected. ``Right now it could be quite arbitrary. One town could say yes and the other say no to a person in similar circumstances.'' Michael Stoops, director of the Homeless Voting Rights Project at the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless, said that group's research shows that Vermont actually is among the better states in its treatment of homeless voting rights. Stoops, too, attributed that to support for those rights among the responsible officials. ``There's no state law in Vermont that makes it clear that homeless people have the right to vote,'' he said. ``Vermont should have a law.'' Exactly how many homeless people there are in Vermont is hard to pin down, said Tony Morgan, who administers programs for the homeless at the Agency of Human Services. More than 4,800 people spent at least one night in a homeless shelter last year and, in a spot check, 235 were staying in shelters the night of Dec. 10. Morgan said the real number of homeless is usually estimated to be about three times the officials counts, with many people staying in cars, camping out or sleeping on friends' couches. Brown, a 44-year-old Connecticut native, has two goals this fall: to encourage fellow homeless Vermonters to register by the Oct. 28 deadline and vote Nov. 7, and to get ready for the upcoming legislative session, when it's expected a bill will be introduced to make it clear in Vermont law that losing one's home doesn't mean losing the right to vote. ``People shouldn't lose their birthright simply because housing is not a right in our society,'' Brown said. Rep. Steve Hingtgen, P-Burlington, said he hoped to introduce a bill in January based on model legislation backed by a national group advocating for the homeless. Under the model law, the applicant merely needs to provide a location within the city or town _ it could be the village green. Hingtgen said aside from his philosophical goal of getting a bit more power to usually disenfranchised people, he has a political interest, as well, in registering the homeless: There are three homeless shelters in his district. Brown, who lives with psychiatric disabilities including recurring, severe depression, spends his healthier days working as an activist, sending e-mails to a wide network of friends, public officials, reporters and, occasionally, political adversaries, from public computer terminals in Montpelier's state, local and college libraries. He's been diagnosed by mental health professionals as someone with ``serious and persistent'' disorders. He turns those words to his advantage by calling himself a ``serious and persistent'' writer and activist. Monday morning found him tapping away at the keyboard of one of the terminals in the law library next to the Vermont Supreme Court. Packing up to head outside for a conversation about his voter registration drive, Brown hoisted a green backpack bulging with his possessions and adorned with stickers and buttons declaring his support for Progressive gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina and Elizabeth Ready, the Democratic candidate for auditor of accounts. Brown knows it won't be easy. Many homeless people don't have the luxury of engaging in political debates; they're too busy trying to survive, to find their next meal or a place to sleep out of the weather. The result is often a profound alienation. Brown says even U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders, whom Brown supports, spends a lot more time talking about Vermont's senior citizens than about its homeless. ``The candidates don't bother raising our issues,'' he says. ``They don't think we'll vote, so they don't bother, so we don't vote.'' Brown is out to break that vicious circle. ``I see voting as a very meaningful act. It's not the end-all. But if we can get candidates articulating on our issues, we can all work together to improve things.'' AP-ES-09-26-00 1529EDT Received Id AP100270A5A429F0 on Sep 26 2000 14:31 END FORWARD **In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.** SEE ALSO National Coalition for the Homeless 1012 Fourteenth Street, NW Suite 600 Washington, DC 20005-3405 Phone: 202-737-6444 Fax: 202-737-6445 Email: nch@ari.net Web: http://nch.ari.net "Morgan W. Brown" <morganbrown@hotmail.com> *********************************************************** 8000+ articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people INFO & to join/leave list - Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net> Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy ***********************************************************