This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

The state  is providing outreach to help people experiencing homelessness learn more about their voting rights, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Wednesday. This includes an online tool kit with information about voting, and training for advocacy organizations that serve homeless Michiganders.

More than 65,000 people in Michigan experienced homelessness in 2018, according to a statewide report. There are about 8,500 people who are homeless on a given night in the state, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates.

The pandemic, and the accompanying economic upheaval, exacerbated housing insecurity. During springtime, homeless shelters in Michigan  were already at capacity before the pandemic caused increased demand.

Winter months traditionally bring an increased need, said Laurel Burchfield, associate director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. But the continuing pandemic adds another layer of concern.

“[The] spring period was a good test run. It allowed our shelters and our providers to have a good framework for what is coming,” Burchfield said. “But I think there’s still a lot of questions about just what COVID is going to look like and how we’re going to respond on top of everything else.”

Though shelters are navigating immediate needs, they have an important role in boosting voter engagement, she said.

Data is scant about homeless voters. What is known, however, is that poorer Americans have lower voting rates in national elections than those with higher incomes. The voting rate among low-income individuals in 2016 was 46%, compared  with 67% for those with income above twice the federal poverty line, according to an August study by the Poor People’s Campaign and a Columbia University researcher.

Barriers to  voting among people facing homelessness include misconceptions about voter ID requirements and permanent addresses and the belief that their vote doesn’t matter, Burchfield said.

Benson said in a news release that her “team is working to ensure those citizens who are housing insecure still have the tools and resources they need to cast their ballot. Our work to provide resources and information to voters in this community will help ensure they can vote with confidence that their ballot will count.”

The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office is partnering with the nonprofit Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness to promote voter education and registration.

Partnering organizations are holding voter registration drives, taking clients to clerk’s offices to register, cast ballots and receive education materials. They  are the Community Action House in Holland, Communities First Inc. in Flint, the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) in Detroit, the HOPE Adult Shelter and Recuperative Center in Pontiac and the  Shelter Association of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor.

Shelters in Detroit registered more than 100 people during the past two weeks, Burchfield said.

Here’s what Michiganders facing homelessness should know about their voting rights, according to the Secretary of State’s Office and Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness:

  • Individuals experiencing homelessness have a right to vote regardless of housing stability.
  • Individuals can register to vote in person without an ID, but they may have to submit a copy of a paycheck stub, utility bill, bank statement or a government document that lists name and address or sign an affidavit.
  • When filling out a voter registration form, eligible voters without a permanent home address can list  the following as their voting address: a shelter address, a street corner,  a park address or an address where they receive mail.
  • Voters must be a Michigan resident at the time they register to vote and a resident of their city or township for at least 30 days when they vote. This applies for those who are living in shelters outside of where they registered, too. They can re-register or update their voter registration address at their clerk’s office.
  • Voters do not need to show identification at the polling place in order to vote. They will be asked as a part of the process. If voters do not have an acceptable form of ID or did not bring one with them to the polls, they can still vote. However, they must sign an affidavit.
  • Registered voters in Michigan can vote before Election Day by using an absentee ballot. The Secretary of State is encouraging voters to drop off ballots at their local clerk’s office or drop box, and not via mail.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Click here to support her work. Contact Nushrat:; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR. Sign up for BridgeDetroit’s newsletterBecome a  Free Press subscriber.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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