Editorial: Homeless People Do Vote

by Editors of the Grapevine

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless surveyed 167 homeless and the extremely low-income who said that they were registered and were going to exercise their right to vote in the November presidential election. Results show that by an overwhelming margin the homeless and low-income support Democrats for elected office, with many others choosing “None of the Above” when given the choice.

Richard Kiefer, Cleveland State University Intern and Project Director, said, “We went to the local shelters, the overflow shelters, and to the soup kitchens and found that homeless people are going to exercise their right to vote this November. Homeless people are part of the constituency of every elected official in Cuyahoga County and politicians need to start listening to them.”

Democrats were chosen in this straw poll in every single category, but some of the interesting choices were the second-place finishers. The homeless of the 11th District chose “None of the Above” over David Harbarger in the County Commissioner race and “None of the Above” over every other candidate for President except Bill Clinton.

In the 10th District Congressional race homeless people chose Dennis Kucinich 71.4% to Martin Hoke’s 21.4%, with Robert Iverson and “None of the Above” each receiving 3.6% of the vote. In the 11th District, Congressman Louis Stokes easily won the race in this largely unscientific straw poll with 81.3% of those surveyed. James Sykora, the Republican, received 6.3% of the homeless vote and “None of the Above” got 8.2% of the vote, with the Natural Law candidate receiving 4.1% of the vote.

In the other Commissioner race Jane Campbell received 85.5% of the vote and incumbent candidate Lee Weingart took 10.1% of the vote. “None of the Above” received 4.4%

 The poll was conducted October 10 to October 26 in the shelters, transitional shelters, and in the soup kitchens. Volunteers asked only those who said they were registered and were going to vote on November 5. The names on the ballot were in a rotating order similar to the official ballot. The four races surveyed included President, both County Commissioner seats, and the Representative to Congress. All names appearing on the official ballot appeared on the straw-poll ballot, with the addition of “None of the Above” to get some sense of voter dislike of all the candidates on the ballot.

 On the ballot, NEOCH asked if the individual had a fixed or permanent address. Of the 167 who responded, 76 said that they did have a fixed address. This is somewhat misleading, since in talking to the individuals some claimed that a shelter was a fixed address. One woman and her three children who lived under a freeway overpass claimed that they were not “homeless” because they had a shanty with four walls and a “roof” (the freeway). 91 people surveyed did say that they were homeless. The Coalition estimates there are 3,500-5,000 who sleep on the streets or in shelters every night in Cleveland.

The homeless straw poll was part of NEOCH’s R.E.M. project to register homeless, educate them, and attempt to motivate them to actually vote. NEOCH was able to register 350 people to vote. They held two candidate nights for homeless people to introduce them to the candidates, and provided rides to the polls on election day.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December 1996