The LMV recently explored the meaning of “minority”. Those historically denied equal rights in the United States – racial minorities (specifically African Americans) and women are automatically designated minorities for the purpose of voting under the 14th and 19th Amendments. On the other hand, we must also explore what it means to be a minority for the purpose of empowerment in our democracy. Are Mid-East immigrants who have become American citizens a voter minority? What about youth? People with disabilities?
As we expand our definitions of “minority” in America to include multiple races, the LGBTQ community and immigrants it’s worth evaluating homeless citizens’ status as a minority voter.
Thousands of homeless are American citizens. In Oregon, much of the homeless population comprises women and people of color. However, in reflecting on the homeless without regard to gender or race, many homeless are eligible to vote, but ignored and even targeted by elected leaders. Last month, the City of Eugene passed an ordinance that bans dogs from its downtown core and while its stated intent is to protect the public from aggressive animals, the result is to ban the homeless from a public space.
The City of Eugene already has laws that address aggressive animals so why the new rule? The law claims to provide exceptions for downtown residents and people with disabilities, but the burden of proof rests on the citizen not on the City. Not to mention – are downtown residents’ dogs less aggressive than non-downtown residents? Should people with disabilities keep accommodations letters on hand if questioned by the police? Certainly Fred Meyer has the right to kick me out of its store if it doesn’t believe my dog is a service animal subject to ADA accommodations; however, it’s important to note that Fred Meyer is private property. Being questioned by a Safeway or Regal Cinemas employee is a far cry from being questioned by a police officer on public property with the threat of a fine and ultimately a criminal record.
While Eugene includes a so-called exemption for people with disabilities, many know homeless frequently have mental and physical disabilities that would warrant a service animal under the ADA, but are less likely to obtain necessary documentation. So not only does Eugene’s dog ban violate homeless civil liberties, but also civil rights as its true intent seeks to prevent homeless who rely on service animals from accessing public property.
Homeless are targets for regressive laws because they lack a voice in elections. “Get Out the Vote” campaigns do not seek homeless voices yet they come from all walks of life from former professors to doctors, mothers, and construction workers. Not having a home doesn’t take away a person’s intelligence or capacity to cast a vote, but lack of mental health facilities, shelters and basic necessities like showers and public toilets deprives homeless of dignity and equality. When survival is a priority it is difficult to think about being part of a community and a democracy. When voters focus on homeless rights they help remove barriers to upward mobility and promote empowerment and political participation from those systemically ignored.
Written by Aimee Sukol, Communications Committee Chair/Board Member