Homelessness and constituents: Are they compatible?

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In the past two years, I have talked a lot about three simple principles: housing, transportation and representation. I have heard from so many of you that these three principles are critical to your value system, and I agree. In today’s article, I want to focus on one difficult topic: can people experiencing homelessness also be constituents?

I’ve heard from so many of you that you currently experience what is called “housing insecurity.” Even before COVID-19 descended on us, 80% of Americans reported living paycheck-to-paycheck. Millions of Americans report having no savings, and the data is even worse for underserved communities, including people of color and people with disabilities. I have personally faced housing insecurity, and one member of my campaign staff did not have a home.

Housing insecurity is a spectrum. Sure, it includes the increasingly common person who lives in a tent in our city. But housing insecurity also includes those living in their car, the couch surfer and so many other types of people.

Generalizations are always risky, but I’m going to make one anyway. Generally, the closer someone is to homelessness, the more sympathetic their outreach is to my office regarding people experiencing homelessness. However, what seems to be a misunderstood concept for many is whether people experiencing homelessness are, in fact, constituents.

According to the Colorado Secretary of State, someone must list a residence when registering to vote. However, the SOS website specifically states that homeless voters can register to vote. “A homeless voter may use any address within a specific county that he/she regularly returns to, and has the intent to remain. This may include a homeless shelter, a homeless service provider, a park, a campground, a vacant lot, a business address or any other physical location,” states the website.

Colorado’s law does not judge anyone based on the quality of their home, or lack thereof. Colorado also does not judge someone should they fall on hard economic times. So many people were already experiencing housing insecurity pre-COVID. Now that we’re setting records with the speed at which people have become jobless, now that we’re having trouble keeping unemployment insurance solvent in our state, and now that our eviction moratorium has been lifted, we may soon see many other people find themselves further along on the spectrum of housing insecurity.

If COVID-19, and all the complications that so many Americans are now facing leaves you homeless, wouldn’t you still want the government to represent you?

The economic diversity of my constituents is greater than most elected officials. In my small, perfect slice of Denver, we have many millionaires and billionaires, and many homeless. During my campaign, I heard loud and clear that you wanted your elected official to represent ALL of you throughout District 10. If your fortune provides you a penthouse, I must consider you and your needs, along with the needs of anyone living in District 10 — even those who might be living in a tent, not far from your high-rise condominium’s entrance.

To me, representing all of my constituents means advocating for near-term solutions such as safe open spaces, while also advocating for evidence-based, proven techniques such as a housing-first policy with wraparound services. What is clear is that we must all work together if we want housing, transportation and representation for all of District 10.

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