Homeless Americans are some of the most vulnerable of all voters. For those who are working to protect the votes of the homeless in their communities, know that there are different approaches and considerations for the homeless who are living in shelters verses those who are unsheltered. Information is provided on this page about these different groups.
Unfortunately, U.S. military veterans comprise a large number of the homeless population. The sacrifices these individuals made to protect our right to vote require that we work together to ensure that those homeless veterans who wish to vote are able to do so – and that those who do not wish to vote are respected.
People experiencing homelessness, either short-term or long-term, can register and vote in all 50 states. Usually, states recommend homeless persons register using a local shelter address, but other location data such as street corners or parks can be used as address locations.
Many states do have residency policies establishing duration of residency in-state. For more information, contact local election officials in the relevant county using our Voting Information Center.
The Homeless Population Challenge
How to Help
In 2020, there were 354,386 homeless Americans living in shelters, and 226,080 Americans experiencing homelessness who were unsheltered
In terms of protecting the votes of this vulnerable constituency, the two groups should be cared for differently.
Homeless shelter and group home residents
It’s important for those who run homeless shelters and group homes to ensure that outsiders visiting are not attempting to coerce votes. Staff for group homes and shelters must make themselves aware of state laws in terms of who is allowed to assist in requesting ballots, and who is allowed to help complete ballots and return ballots.
Residents of shelters and group homes servicing the homeless should be treated with the utmost compassion and respect. If they wish to vote, that is their right. If they choose not to vote, they should not be compelled to do so. Many reports come to our attention that often well-meaning staff members are so strongly encouraging homeless residents to vote that it can be perceived as a requirement for living in the facility. This should not occur.
Pay attention to the laws in your area and ensure that the rules regarding who can return ballots are being followed. “Stranger Danger” is important. Do not allow residents to give their ballots to someone else. It is always best to remit your ballot yourself, in person. Shelters can arrange transportation to make this possible.
It’s important all Americans have the ability to vote but also have the right to make the choice that is best for them.
Unfortunately, the practice of paying for votes continues even in 2022. Though likely not widespread, reports have come to our attention of homeless individuals being offered meals, housing and / or cash in exchange for their vote in local, state and federal elections.
Other reports have come through about homeless Americans being made to feel guilty for not participating in the voting process. While we want all legal Americans to exercise their civic duty, there are reasons a homeless individual may not feel they have the capacity to properly execute this important right. That decision should be respected.
Those who volunteer with the homeless are encouraged to create a relationship and determine how to best fulfill the wishes of the homeless person. If they wish to vote, help them do so according to the local laws in your area. Ensure that they are able to cast their vote for the candidate in whom they have interest. Listen to them if they have experienced vote coercion – or if they are aware of attempts to purchase or coerce votes from their friends. Anonymous reports to the Center’s vote fraud hotline will be investigated and addressed.