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The Beacon

The Beacon, a homeless resource day center, had its first voter registration drive Wednesday to increase voter turnout among people who are homeless.

People experiencing homelessness and income insecurity may find it difficult to register to vote, so to make the process easier, the Beacon hosted a voter registration drive on Wednesday.

The day resource center, located at 815 E. Washington Ave., is run by Catholic Charities and offers shower facilities, laundry services, a mail center, shuttle rides to night shelters and basic breakfast and lunch. The second floor gives people access to a computer lab and services provided by a number of agencies.

As of 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 people had registered to vote. Registration was set to be open until 2 p.m. that day.

One of the biggest obstacles of people experiencing homelessness is registering a permanent address, and the Beacon helps with that.

“The process of voting can be very complicated. If a person doesn’t have a permanent address, the Beacon, as a service provider, can write an affidavit that can attest to where a person lives, and that will help a person register to vote,” said Yogesh Chawla, the Dane County Board supervisor who represents District 6 on the near east side of Madison.

Along with Chawla, other community leaders were there to assist. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell and the League of Women’s Voters co-chair of affordable housing/homelessness, Gail Bliss, were also in attendance.

Bliss said it is not only important to register people to vote, but also to inform people about what’s on the ballot.

“I’ve talked to people and they only voted in presidential elections, if they voted at all. That’s because they didn’t understand the issues or who was running,” Bliss said. “City and county government make all the decisions that impact especially low income people’s lives. What the federal government does about trade with China is pretty remote.”

That sentiment was echoed by John Adams, director of the Beacon. He said this event was a great opportunity for people experiencing poverty to “change policy.”

“There are a lot of barriers, policy-wise, that sometimes hinder people’s progress. Having an event like this at the Beacon gives people a voice, and your vote counts in helping implement the changes in policy that is needed,” Adams said.

The turnout of people experiencing poverty has historically been affected by not having adequate access to resources.

“A event like this gives a voice to the voiceless. People usually don't have these opportunities. There are some barriers that stop people from voting. We’re bringing the registration here to help some of those people who don’t have a voice,” Adams said.

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The Beacon provides services that assist the homeless in their daily lives, he said.

“The Beacon has eliminated the need for transportation. We’re located right across the street from the Salvation Army. We’re also a couple blocks from the men’s shelter. This gives people the access to resources. In the past, you would have to catch six buses to get to these places,” Adams said.

According to McDonell, changes to voting laws in past years is why events like these are needed.

“We need events like this. A big reason is that Republicans have changed the elections laws to make it harder for people to register to vote,” McDonell said.

Adams believes that some people don’t get the opportunity to have their voices heard, and wants to see this event continue to give them that opportunity.

“I want to see the event continue, because I’m a big advocate of giving people a voice and listening to the voiceless. Sometimes we don’t understand their struggles, and when we give them an opportunity to vote it gives us the opportunity to change and better serve them,” Adams said.

The Cap Times tried to speak with several people who registered to vote at the Beacon, but they were uncomfortable speaking to a reporter.

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