Homeless residents organize for D.C. special election


(Kendra Seymour/Kendra Joy Photography)

It’s unclear just how many D.C. residents will vote in Tuesday’s traditionally low-turnout special election. Will more vote this time than in the last citywide special election, in 2011, when 46,967 voted — a 10.3 percent turnout?

What we know is that of the 2,894 residents who cast ballots during early voting this year, scores were homeless. They were organized by Shelter, Housing and Respectful Change and the Washington Interfaith Network, which held a rally April 13 at a downtown homeless shelter, after which about 80 homeless residents voted.

“The central message was, ‘I am a voter,'” said the Rev. Mike Angell, an assistant rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church and a strategy team member for WIN. “So often we hear about the homeless as a problem, or as clients or guests of nonprofits. But the message is, our neighbors who live on the streets and in the shelters are residents of our city and should have a role in how the city spends its funds.”

Organizers feared that homeless residents, many of whom lack proof of city residency, would have difficulty registering and voting. Angell said advocates asked the city’s Department of Human Services to order shelters to issue residency letters to their patrons. That never happened; a department spokesman had no comment last week.

But Angell said the voters last Saturday had few problems voting. The Board of Elections, in fact, tweeted a photo of the ralliers that day.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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