Sask. homeless deal with hurdles in federal election campaign: advocate

Saskatoon's largest homeless shelter will provide transportation services to its clients on election day.

"This year the polling station is quite far away which concerns us. It's not within walking distance and as you can imagine none of our clients here at the Lighthouse have access to transportation," said Chris Randall, the shelter's frontline manager.

Accessing the polls is one thing, but obtaining proper identification to present once they get there may be an even bigger challenge.

Elections Canada provides shelters in the country with a letter of confirmation of residence, but voters also require a piece of ID.

Many people at the Lighthouse have had lost their ID or had it stolen.

"We're providing the ID that we have available in terms of some of the documentation that we have with those clients, but we're unsure," Randall said.

Randall was referring to the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS).

Each clients' HIFIS profile contains their legal name, photo, date of birth and health card or treaty number.

A spokesperson from Elections Canada was unable to confirm if HIFIS profiles will be accepted. Randall said Lighthouse staff have their fingers crossed.

Reaching out to shelters

The Lighthouse Supported Living building contains many services that attract a diverse clientele.

There is an emergency shelter for single men and women, a 64-room tower that allows youth, seniors and everyone in between a safe place to live, a 58-unit communal living tower with below-market rents and a detox unit.

Bridget Yard/CBC

Elections Canada provides the services of services of a community relations officer (CRO) as a resource for vulnerable populations.

The officer is assigned to reach out to people who are homeless and provide information to shelters about how to register and vote.

They explain how to request a letter of confirmation of residence from shelters they visit for food, housing, or other social services, an Elections Canada spokesperson said.

ROs were hired in Saskatchewan for the 2019 election in Regina/Qu'appelle, Regina-Wascana and Saskatoon West. 

In the Regina-Wascana district, the CRO arranged for a safe voting environment in a women's shelter in order to give clients a chance to vote without fear of being seen by their abuser.

While person-to-person vouching was reinstated in 2018 via the Elections Modernization Act, the option is limited.

The person vouching has to be assigned to the same polling station as the person being vouched for and they can only vouch for one person.

Staff at long term care homes are able to vouch for multiple residents, but the option is not available for shelters.

Bridget Yard/CBC

Not a lot of contact with candidates

Saskatoon West has five candidates running, but only one party — the NDP — has reached out to people at the Lighthouse, Randall said.

"I would love to think that candidates would be very concerned about the issues around homelessness and the issues around housing in our community and so we'd love to think that the candidates or their offices would reach out," he said.

Homelessness can be chronic or episodic, but for many it is traumatic. That reduces Lighthouse clients' ability to procure basic tools to help them understand the issues and candidates' positions, Randall said.

There are posters up all over the building encouraging people to vote October 21. There are hoops to jump through, but Randall said they'll keep trying to get their ballots counted.