Community advocate Raeleen Valle-Brenes assists April, a resident of the Trainor Street homeless encampment, with her voter registration form. Photo by Laura Waxmann

San Francisco’s homeless population can vote, even without a fixed address, announced advocates for the homeless who on Thursday gathered at the intersection of Division Street and Trainor – a narrow alleyway behind Rainbow Grocery that is lined with tents.

“Our goal is to tell folks, if you want to vote, look at that street corner right there; that’s your address, that’s your voting right,” said Vivian Thorp, legal advocate with the Homeless Action Center in Berkeley.

The advocates representing Poor Magazine/Decolonize Academy and the Justice for Luis Góngora Pat Coalition set up a tent at the corner of the alleyway –  symbolizing a voter registration booth – and then made their way from tent to tent with registration forms.

While informing the Trainor Street tent encampment residents of their right, the advocates also campaigned against Propositions Q and R, two measures on the November ballot that they say could prove harmful to the campers.

“We are just letting folks know that this will affect them, and they may have a sense of that already – but it’s connecting the fact that they can actually, actively vote against those propositions,” said Pearl Ubungen, an organizer with the Justice for Luis Góngora Pat Coalition.

All that is needed, according to Ubungen, are the last four digits of the individual’s social security number, a full name, and the cross streets of where their tent is approximately located, which will determine their precinct. An elections clerk at the Department of Elections confirmed the requirements, but added that citizens over the age of 18 can become voters without a physical social security card or a state ID and would simply be issued a voter number.

The registration tent will remain staffed at the intersection for 24 hours, said Ubungen, but the advocates plan on conducting outreach to the Mission’s homeless encampments all weekend. They hope to reach as many homeless voters as possible before the October 24 registration deadline, and said they are welcoming volunteers.

The group will be collecting the registration forms and turning them into City Hall’s elections department on behalf of the camp residents. The campers will also have the option to mail their forms free of postage fees.

One Trainor Street encampment resident, who gave her name as April, immediately registered to vote. The woman said she was unaware that she was able to do so without an address.

“To be honest, it’s not the first thing on my mind,” she said, adding that on Wednesday night, she and others in her encampment were warned by police that they would have to move out of the encampment in the coming days.

April said she would be voting against a ballot measure that would allow the city to clear encampments after providing 24-hour notice to residents. “But it’s nice to think that maybe my voice matters somehow,” she added.

“I think that’s very empowering,” said Ubungen, adding that sifting through the 25 city measures on this November’s ballot is a generally difficult task, but in particular for those who are unhoused.

“It’s kind of like a setup for people to be overwhelmed. My father asked me to help him figure it out – can you imagine folks on the street?” she said. 

Along with getting as many of the Mission’s homeless residents registered to vote as possible, the group also hoped to raise awareness about two propositions on the November ballot that they say are detrimental to their work and serve to further criminalize the poor.

As many San Franciscans are growing increasingly frustrated over property crimes such as theft and car break-ins, Proposition R, proposed by District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, would direct 3 percent of San Francisco’s police force to addressing neighborhood crime.

“They want to hire more police officers to sweep the streets of houseless people who live here, because when tourists come in, they don’t want to see these people,” said Tiburcio Garcia, of the Decolonize Academy.

Proposition Q, authored by District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, would ban tents and makeshift shelters on sidewalks in an effort to regulate the tent encampments that have become increasingly visible in residential neighborhoods. The measure proposes pulling current residents off the streets and into housing – but advocates for the homeless who are in opposition with Prop. Q say that the measure does not address the city’s current shortage of temporary shelter and permanent housing for the homeless.

Rather than offering up solutions on effectively solving San Francisco’s homeless crisis, the creation of a “neighborhood crime unit” proposed by Prop. R, as well as the banning of tent encampments under Prop Q,  are “extreme and sci-fi in what they will end up causing for houseless people,” said Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, homeless rights advocate and co-editor of Poor Magazine.

Garcia said the proposed ballot measures are nothing new, and related them to “19th-century settler-colonizer-based pauper laws,” or poor laws, that made it illegal for “poor, disabled people to be in public.”

“In other parts of the world, people sit in the streets – here, we are not allowed to be seen,” said Garcia.

The advocate also used the opportunity to reiterate that the sponsors of Prop. Q include tech investors Ron Conway and Michael Moritz.

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  1. Does this work only in San Franciso? Or all over the state? Or all over the country? Anyway, it’s unfortunate that this is reported so late, with the deadline just a couple of days away.

  2. I voted yes on Q and i’m damned proud of it too. If they want the privilege to vote, maybe they should become a part of society rather than the fringe. They don’t care anyway.

  3. Nice to see them try to empower voting for folks who feel unempowered. But both Prop Q and R are going to be passed by an overwhelming majority from recent polls. The advocates may be better off using their resources to try to help the ones who want to find a place to go and get ahead of the proposition.

  4. Gee, no fixed address- no real ID – register them anyway! Boss Ruef looks down from heaven with pride on this stunt.

  5. A vote to get rid of tents is a vote to get rid of violent crime, drugs, prostitution, human waste and theft. This is the best prop on the ballot. Credit to Farrell – is there a way to have him replace Campos.

  6. Too bad meth legalization is not on the ballot…. And why not have19th century based laws? We have to put up with 19th century open sewers now, so the derelicts can be just as inconvenienced as the self enabled, as far as I’m concerned…. “Compassion” has been unmasked as a erroneous mantra for weak minded suckers and enablers.