Wanderer, there is no way. The path is made by walking. Antonia Machado
We are a world of contradictions. We fight for peace. We fight for the right to bear arms to protect ourselves against an enemy we cannot see but fear is out there lurking, waiting to take what is ours. We fight for the right to vote, and then, do not vote.
ON October 19, Canada will hold a federal election.
In the homeless sector, voting in an election is not a common practice.
This year, a group of individuals with lived experience of homelessness want to change that. They are planning a ‘mock election’ in late September complete with ballot boxes, screening officers and candidates vying for the votes of those who do not believe their vote counts.
It is the challenge of homelessness.
You must lose everything to carry the label. And in your loss, you lose dignity, self-respect, and a belief in the power of your voice to make a difference.
At a meeting the other day to discuss plans for the upcoming mock election, a co-worker talked about one young man who has decided this year he will exercise his perogative. In his early 30s, he has been homeless off and on most of his life.
This year, he will vote for the first time.
But first, he needs to get identification that will let him vote.
It is another challenge of homelessness. Voting requires identification. Many people living the experience of homelessness do not have that which the majority of us take for granted; a piece of paper that legally confirms we are who we say we are in the world.
At the mock election, there will be people who can support those without identification obtain it.
“Is a month enough time to get ID?”, someone at the meeting asked.
None of us knew for sure.
None of us had ever been faced with the task of getting something so seemingly simple.
At the shelter where I used to work there is a room filled with belongings clients have left behind. When giving tours of the facility, people would ask, “Why do they leave these things behind? Don’t they want them? Don’t they care?”
It is not so simple.
Sometimes, someone won’t return to their locker because in the process of going about their daily life, they have been arrested for outstanding warrants. With no ability to pay for jay walking tickets, vagrancy tickets, and a host of other tickets a homeless individual can acquire in daily life, they opt for jail. They have no choice.
Sometimes, they wind up in hospital with no means to let anyone know where they are.
Sometimes, a job offer comes up and they grab it, even if it means leaving right now to travel to the oil fields or some other distant place. They do not dare hesitate. Jobs don’t come along often in the world of homelessness.
Sometimes, the burden of the past is too great to keep carrying, and they leave it behind.
Sometimes, in constantly leaving things behind, the things they carried are simply that – things.
There are many, many reasons people leave things behind. Things like clothing. Family photo albums. Bibles and and other books. Certificates, like the certificate of merit from a Scout troupe one person left in their locker. Staff could not throw it out, just as they could not discard or repurpose things like Bibles and family photos and other personal items. For staff, clearing out an abandoned locker was one of the most difficult tasks. The choice to keep it, just in case the person returned, or let it go. It is not easy.
Homelessness fosters a sense of disconnection. Of not being part of ‘your life’ because the fact that this, this place called homeless could be ‘your life’ is hard to grasp. Hard to understand. Hard to believe.
In the disbelief, in the tiredness of having to keep jettisoning the things that once made up your life which you can no longer carry, or bring into a shelter because there is no room for all your stuff, only one suitcase that will fit into a small locker, you let go of holding onto everything.
It’s easier that way.
Just let it go and don’t hold on, to anything.
Especially the belief, you can make a difference.
It’s too hard to hold, that belief. Because if I can make a difference, if for example, my vote might count, then why am I in this place called homeless?
A group of individuals with lived experience of homelessness are holding a mock election in September to encourage those with the lived experience of homelessness to exercise their right to vote.
It is an important thing they are doing, this group of concerned citizens.
They are building the path, walking their talk, creating space for their voice to be heard. And in that space, they will hold space for others to rise up and cast their vote too.
They cannot predict the outcome. But they do know, that if they do not walk this path. If they do not take these steps, the way will not magically appear.
There are lessons to be learned from these individuals who are walking this path. They are creating a new direction with every step they take.