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Union Gospel Mission gearing up to help most vulnerable head to the polls

Last Updated Sep 27, 2020 at 8:50 am PST

FILE -- A man marks his ballot at an Elections BC polling station (CityNews)

Union Gospel Mission says the snap pandemic election has added more stress to those already at risk

If someone does not have a fixed address UGM can register them to its address meaning they can vote by mail

UGM is asking other voters not to forget other issues affecting B.C. besides COVID-19 like the overdose crisis, housing

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s homeless are gearing up for an especially tough election, as many voters sign up for mail-in ballots and stock up on masks for polling stations, advocates hope the province’s most vulnerable won’t be forgotten, in more ways than one.

Nicole Mucci with Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver says it’s hard enough to register to vote with no fixed address or ID, but the snap pandemic election has added more stress to those already at risk.

“Now there are added difficulties that they may be facing including trying to figure out mail-in voting, fear of standing in line where people may congregate or just not knowing where or how they could access voting,” she said. “They might not even know that an election is happening because it is a snap election.”

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She says UGM is in touch with Elections BC and still needs to figure out how it can help keep people safe while voting, or if its Downtown Eastside location will even be a polling station again this year.

“We don’t know the exact locations that are going to be available to our community members, but we are encouraged to know that this is top of mind with Elections BC and that finding in-person options for our community to vote is high on its radar,” Mucci said. “We do hope to have more concrete information on what exactly we’re able to as well as how things are going to roll out within the next couple of weeks.”

Those without a fixed address can contact UGM or any other homeless aid group to use their facility as an address.

But facilities that act as addresses for those without one will also be responsible for receiving and handing out the mail-in ballots.

Voting places throughout the province will have several protective measures, according to Elections BC, including physical distancing, capacity limits, and frequent cleaning. Caring for specific needs of vulnerable populations could be a challenge, however, and Elections BC says it will not be sending mobile teams to facilitate voting at these sites “due to the pandemic.”

The deadline to register to vote in the Oct. 24 election was Saturday, meaning people who need to register or update their information will need to do it in-person at the polls. Mail-in ballots can still be requested online or by phone for those who are registered or with up to date information.

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In the meantime, Mucci asks other voters not to forget the other issues affecting B.C. besides the pandemic, like the overdose crisis, education, and housing affordability, issues which disproportionately affect those without stable housing.

“The reality is that people right now are going to be voting with the pandemic at the top of their minds, and they should be, but knowing that there needs to be consideration around those who are most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic,” she says, adding that includes single parents, low-income families, and those who lost their jobs to the pandemic. “Homelessness and lack of ability right now are at an all-time high. They should be on the minds of our voters. Four people every day are dying on average due to the opioid crisis.”

By August, B.C. recorded more overdose deaths than in all of 2019, with 1,068 deaths, including a monthly record of 181 in June.

“We don’t have a tone of time before the election but we know that our community is one of the communities with the most at stake during the pandemic and they do deserve a chance to help shape their future.”