A vote of rights
Though having lived on the streets for over half his life, Les Jones is now a prime example of how taking initiative can forever change ones life for the better. Jones is now a member of the Board of Directors for Step Up On Second, a local charitable organization that provides housing and support for the mentally handicapped. In preparation for the November election, Jones is assisting Step Up in a recent effort to help its homeless clientele exercise right to vote.
"I never felt like I was a part of anything. When I came to Step Up I finally realized I was a part of something that I could contribute to and make a better place through my actions," Jones said.
During the last presidential election, Step Up began a movement to assist its homeless clientele with the voting process. "What we do on Election Day is we take people to the polls if they want to. A lot of our members don't feel at ease going alone, so we make sure they are able to let their voice be heard," explained Jones.
"I think the main thing they are concerned with is the state budget," Jones said. "Most of our members are on disability, SSI or SSCI and some of their benefits are being cut. It's an important election for them."
Sara, who used to be homeless but now lives with her mother and asked not to use her last name, believes that the voting process can be difficult for some people, and that Step Up removes some of the inherent difficulties that some people face.
"For people to be able to vote there are barriers there. We try to drop those barriers by going over the propositions, going over the governor debates, and helping people fill out their by mail ballots," she said.
"I voted for the first time two years ago," said Thomas, a homeless client of Step Up since 1999. "Les helped me out. I was already registered but I couldn't vote because I don't know how to read or write that well."
Jones explained that the homeless often feel a sense of powerlessness and voting can be a way to regain a sense of community and significance.
"When you are in the voting booth, there is no one more important than you. You have the power of the government in your hands," said Jones. "I tell people that all the time. It's not so much to learn but to unlearn, to unlearn all the lies I felt about myself, about who I am and what I can do. That's so important."
Their endeavors are assisted by The League of Women Voters (LWV), who arrived at Step Up to register voters. "Poverty is not a dis-qualifier. Having a home does not qualify you to be able to vote," said Thea Brodkin, who is on The League of Women Voters state board.
"A lot of them are veterans, they fought for our country. You don't want to take away their right to vote," Brodkin explained. "They are hard for the normal person with really high intelligence to understand some of the things on this ballot." The LWV strives to make this process more simple and easy to understand.
However, Brodkin believes that this isn't simply a venture to get people into the polling booths without any substantive knowledge of the issues at hand. "You don't have to vote on everything, you can just leave things blank. If you don't know the candidates, don't vote on them! Don't make a change unless you think it's a good change."