When Expert Focus, with support from .@HACThousing (Housing Associations Charitable Trust) began working on the #homelessnotvoteless project, there was a hope that we would be able to help increase the number of homeless people registering so they could exercise their right to vote. The shocking figure of just 2% of homeless people voting 2017 was the backdrop and we felt more could be done to encourage homeless people to take part in the democratic process.
We (Expert Focus & HACT) began with high expectations thinking that by hitting the streets and talking to homeless people (especially rough sleepers) we would be able to improve their level of engagement in the electoral process. We produced flyers, had printed copies of the registration forms and began talking.
What we found was the polar opposite to what hoped. In many cases there was a sheer stubborn resistance to being involved at any level. Homeless people just don’t want to take part in something they feel will just give them more of the same. They felt their voice didn’t matter because no one was listening.
The people we spoke to were forthright in their responses and we heard some wonderful anecdotes along the way, including.
*John, a former serving soldier: “I fought for this country, I gave my all, but they don’t care. It means nothing to those sitting behind their desks in government, so why would I bother.”
*Joanne: “I can get a sandwich anywhere, but getting somewhere dry and warm to eat it, that’s a different story.”
*Paul said “No, I won’t be voting, there’s no point.” “They are all as bad as each other, you can’t trust anybody.”
Marc, on BBC London news: “Homelessness, top of the agenda, the world can be a better place” adding “Allow us a voice.”
The people we spoke to were happy to talk, we did eventually manage to get 26 people to fill in the forms and register. Not as high as we hoped but given the general feeling about how politicians think about them, I still think this is a fantastic number.
There is a claim that record numbers of people (general public) registered to vote on the last day, we didn’t experience the same flood I am sad to report.
Overall, I think this was a worthwhile project. It certainly posed more questions than it answered, and I think it is fair to say a bit like the government’s view of homelessness not being top of the agenda, homeless people’s view of government also fails to meet any lofty heights in their priority.
In a few months, when this election has been and gone, life for most homeless people will return to one of obscurity. Away from the political and media gaze, this excluded group will continue to face hardship and isolation. Homeless people and homelessness just won’t matter until next time around.
The lack of hope homeless people feel is reflected by them having no real desire to be part of a democratic process, saying clearly that resolving the problems of homelessness is a lot more complex than simply putting an (X) in a box.
There is a complete lack of trust in the political process, and homeless people do not feel their vote is suddenly going to change that for them
It is clear they do not feel listened to.
The problems surrounding homelessness is the truest reflection of the direction mainstream society is heading, and in general how people are behaving towards each other.
This election seems to be a straight battle between leave and remain, and for what it’s worth, in my opinion, Brexit has been possibly the biggest mistake in political history. It has proven to be little more than a cheap trick to avoid the real responsibility of government which is to heal the rifts in our communities. I feel that it has only achieved in demonstrating, “you should never try to put out a small fire by drowning it with petrol.”
Brexit seems to have bred a blame culture where those with the least power are given the unenviable role of being held responsible for societal problems, with homeless people shouldering the brunt of this.
Politicians, leading from the top, seem free to spit out bile and rhetoric, giving the opinion that those on the margins are to blame for the very existence of those margins, and this only achieves setting people against each other.
Attacks on homeless people have seen a sharp increase since 2017 and even as I write this piece I am reminded of someone who was unable to join in this work because they are in a hospital bed, still suffering from the legacy of being stabbed during an attack just for being homeless. That was 2 years ago, and they have been back and forth countless times since.
The attack which clearly has had a massive impact was not even investigated properly by the police. The police officer closed their notebook and walked out partway through taking a statement, simply because the victim was a rough sleeper who had addiction and mental health issues. It comes to something when the protection of the state is denied or granted on status. The perception that homeless people are worthless being cemented in such a crass way means that it’s easy to target them.
There are stories which are slowly being unearthed of hard-pressed charities being forced to work closer to the Department for Work and Pensions and UK Border Agency, acting as the eyes and ears of the government hunting down the ‘undeserving poor,’ or the ‘great unwashed’, weeding out those who it says have no recourse to public funds.
It feels as though the tentacles of mistrust in government felt by many homeless people is reaching into and damaging the very system which is meant to be creating opportunity and making real change.
The debacle of politics has meant there have been year on year budget cuts for homelessness services throughout austerity, three rushed elections in five years has seen this happen without a break. Even me (with very little insight into the fiscal process) understands that homelessness services can often gain some short-term respite during an election process. Services which are starved of resources most of the time can scoop up a few extra pounds as homelessness becomes a political football. The extraordinary path politics has taken has denied this opportunity for some much-needed monetary input.
Looking at the relationship between government and charity and the dependency on this, I can understand some of them falling foul to the unjust pressure, just in order to survive and continue to provide services.
So, powerless, voiceless, and now almost friendless, homeless people feel let down by government. For them, not wanting to play a part of a democratic process, one which simply elects a new set of politicians who will continue to fail them, isn’t something which is going to alter anytime soon; perhaps it never will unless there are some real changes about how homelessness is perceived and tackled.
Whoever wins the general must take a closer look at why those on the margins of society feel so disconnected from it, even taking part in a democratic process seems so pointless to them.
They have to examine how current policy is allowed to go unchallenged looking at the wider implications of homelessness, not only of those who do not have shelter, but on society itself.
There is a quote from Nelson Mandela which reads “A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones” And speaking from personal experience, there is only one thing lower than having no shelter, no rights and no voice, and that is having no hope.
Whoever wins the election and forms the government must start to build in hope and begin to have the sort of conversation that is needed to begin solving the homelessness and social exclusion felt by so many.
It has to demonstrate that homeless and socially excluded people matter and invite them into the conversation, set an example which the general population can follow. The new government must have the courage and commit to change by beginning to have those conversations first-hand with those who experience homelessness and social exclusion and not continue to hide behind a variety of buffers or barriers which restrict that direct dialogue and bleach the truth.
The government must open itself up to criticism and not slide back into a blame game, homeless and marginalised people should not have to wait until the game of political ping-pong has finished, government should welcome change.
It should prepare itself to have conversations which are based on a more meaningful, emotional connection between people and this has to be given the right focus. There has to be government support and resources given to people who have real lived personal experience of homelessness and social exclusion to set the agenda and begin working on sustainable solutions.
Homeless and socially excluded people are more than capable of bringing much-needed input and direction because they know what works and what doesn’t. They can provide a much clearer snapshot of the real problems so the public, voluntary and statutory agencies and government can come together and rebuild the human connection is sadly lacking and a connection which will provide the adhesive needed to keep it all going and begin to rebuild trust, giving hope.
But is this vision just pie in the sky? A hopeless thought? Or maybe……
Here’s hoping eh!!
IF YOU CAME HERE VIA TWITTER, PLEASE RETURN TO LIKE AND RETWEET (IF YOU WANT)
Throughout this venture, it has been a pleasure to work with so many brilliant, exciting people: @Jonathan_Senker, Magda @feedtosucceed, Sarah Miles, Sam, Marc, Lilla Conte, David Brown, Amelia, Paul Waters, Andrew and Matthew @HACThousing, @LottaHaegg and more (sorry if I have not put your name in here.)
Of course, all of those who tweeted and retweeted, driving #homelessnotvoteless up the agenda, I hope you will do the same for this last phase.
It was also fantastic to learn of so many charities and organisations who were also doing some similar work on the subject.
On December 12th 2019 Britain goes to the polls to elect a new government, at the last general election only 2% of homeless people registered and voted. It is vital that this changes.
Eligible homeless people have the right to vote just the same as everyone else so we have produced this simple piece of information to help homeless people understand the process, register to vote, and be part of the democratic process.
You will NOT require any form of identification to register (or to actually vote) you simply have to provide your national insurance number and the same details you have given to the benefits agency.
1. Am I eligible to vote?
- be registered to vote
- be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’)
- be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
- be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years)
- not be legally excluded from voting (convicted prisoners are not eligible to vote, but those on remand can register)
2. I am eligible to vote, how do I register?
If you live in a medium to long term hostel or have been staying in temporary accommodation where you are registered for council tax you can complete an online form. You will need to provide details which match those you have provided for the DWP (Benefits Agency) this will include the same address you are making a claim from and your National Insurance number. You can find the online for at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
3. I am eligible to vote but I am sleeping rough or I do not have a fixed address, what do I have to do?
Because you do not have a fixed address you must complete a paper registration form, this also forms part of your local connection application. The main reason you have to complete a paper form is because during the next 12 months your circumstances are likely to change, when you they do, you will have to register again. If you move into a fixed accommodation during this time you will be able to complete an online form, if you remain without fixed accommodation, then you will have to complete another paper form.
4. What does the paper form look like and where can I get one from?
You can download the paper for from https://bit.ly/2Oq8BeN The paper form is 5 pages, pages 1 & 5 are for information purposes, take some time to read them or if you have difficulty in understanding speak to a key worker or someone else you trust to talk you through this information. You must complete pages 2,3 & 4. Here are a few helpful tips for completing the form.
This is a basic information page, it tells you if you are eligible to vote, and reminds you that you MUST sign the declaration at the end of the page.
The information you provide on this page is very basic. Your need your name, date of birth, nationality and national insurance number (if you do not know your National Insurance number you can find it on the top of any letter you receive from the benefits agency
This page goes into a little more detail about where you live. If you have no fixed address put in tick in the correct box and fill in the details of how they can contact you. If you are using a day centre to collect your post, or another place where you get letters from. If you have given the benefits agency an address, you MUST put the same details on this form. In case the registration office need to contact you they will write to you, but in the run up to the general election they may want to give you a call, if you have a mobile number you can add this to page 4.
If you are sleeping rough, fill in a site near to where you sleep. Filling in something like, behind the bicycle sheds of 22, Any Street, That Town, Where, AA1 1AA is perfectly fine. So if you do sleep in a doorway, in an underground car park, or in a tent, just give the closest details you can.
If you are not able to receive post, you will not be able to get your poll card, but don’t worry too much. As long as you have registered, and go to the correct polling station on the day, they will have your details and you will be able to cast your vote.
This is the last page of information you need to supply. It is advisable to provide a mobile number if you have one, you can also provide an email address. Only add an email address if you have regular access to it. When deciding if you want to be on the open register you should consider that this information can be bought by marketing companies (who can be a pain and keep pestering you) it is also used by insurance and credit card companies to confirm your address details) If you do not want to be contacted by these agencies, then put a tick in the box.
If you are disabled or otherwise unable to go and vote yourself, you can tick the box for a proxy vote. This is where you can get someone to go and vote on your behalf. You must remember to choose someone who will vote for the party you want.
Lastly, sign the declaration. Without your signature the form cannot be processed and you will not be eligible to vote.
This final page gives you any other advice you need to know about completing the form.
The last thing you need to do is to return it to the electoral registration office. This is generally at a town hall or council offices. If it is somewhere else, you can find the details online at https://www.gov.uk/get-on-electoral-register
The general advice is if possible, drop your completed form in by hand.
If you are ready to complete the form you can download it from the government website by clicking here
If you are unable to print off a copy, your local electoral office should be able to help you.