HOMELESS TO BE REGISTERED TO VOTE by Roxanne Escobales

08/23/06

With 11-thousand people without a home, Hillsborough County ranks sixth in the nation for homelessness. Ninety percent of them are of voting age. An initiative that takes place next month is aimed at getting them registered so they can do just that – vote.

ACT: imagine tonight you don’t have a place ot go home to, it’s hot outside, you don’t have a shower and you’ve got two kids with you\

Reverend Tracey Crocker doesn’t have to imagine family life without a home. In 2003, she and her two daughters were homeless. After fleeing an abusive marriage in Arab, north Alabama, Reverend Crocker came to Tampa with 200 dollars in her pocket. They stayed with her one friend here for a month before ending up on the street.

ACT: we stayed in the car… at one point my dad sent us money for one thing and I ended up using it on a hotel room

Crocker says she is one of the lucky ones because her family was homeless for a month. They found help through churches and faith based organizations, which paid for her deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment.

ACT: we had a slumber party that night

Now Crocker runs a church in Sulphur Springs, Tampa that she founded with her husband. Covenant Chapel Ministries has an outreach program that provides transitional housing, education and counseling for the homeless.

The Convenant House of Tampa is one of a dozen local homeless organizations that has pledged to take part in the National Low Income and Homeless Voter Registration Week in September.

Lesa Weikel is the community relations manager for the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County. She helped organize a statewide homelessness conference taking place in Tampa this week. Weikel says that most of the participants in a voter empowerment workshop held earlier this week were shocked to find out that homeless people could vote.

ACT: The theory out there that’s a myth… can’t vote without an address…

Weikel says the only caveat is that voters need a photo ID to vote. But she says that that is easier to deal with than the issue of not having an address. Reverend Crocker’s Covenant House helps the homeless get back ID cards that may have gotten lost on the streets or loaned out to others and never returned.

Weikel says getting the homeless registered to vote is important in helping them take control of their lives.

ACT: empowerment… funding decisions that directly affect their lives…

The 2007 legislative agenda for the Florida Coalition for the Homeless highlights the types of funding decisions made in Tallahassee that affect the almost 89-thousand homeless adults in Florida.

The coalition will be pushing the legislature to increase funding to homeless assistance programs within the state. Funding for these programs make up less than one percent of the state budget. The coalition will also try to get the state to make more allocated funding available for hurricane housing recovery programs. The Sadowski Housing Trust Fund was set up in 1992. Last year almost 940-million dollars were generated by stamp tax to fund the trust. But little more than half was allocated for housing and hurricane recovery.

Rayme Nuckles is the president of the Florida Coalition for the Homeless. Nuckles said that homelessness in Florida has reached record numbers and the state faces a housing crisis.

ACT: due to the fact that we’ve had such an escalating increases due to the hurricanes and due to insurance increases, housing has become one of the primary focues that the coalition has began to focus on, specifically with trying to target funding directed at extremely low income families

Homeless organizations will be affected by newly enacted state regulations. These laws hold third-party voter registration groups to strict rules about how long they have to turn in registration cards. If they do not make the deadlines, they are fined large sums. In May the League of Women Voters led a lawsuit filed against the state challenging the law as unconstitutional. The case is still in court.

The Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County’s Weikel said she is calling on all participating organizations to be extra diligent.

ACT:

At her outreach center, Reverend Crocker will be taking part in the homeless voter registration drive.

ACT: Just because someone’s homeless doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a voice… maybe they deserve a voice more than anybody.

Reverend Tracey Crocker received an award for outstanding service to homeless people at the statewide homelessness conference held this week in Tampa. The National Low Income and Homeless Voter Registration Week takes place the week of September 24th.

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