WEST PALM BEACH — Frances Tapia hasn't considered voting one of her priorities.
Tapia, a mother to six children and grandmother to three grandchildren, said she hasn't even had a moment to think about the coming elections after being in and out of motels and trying to fix up her new rental, for which she is paying $1,500 per month.
"We couldn't find anywhere for the longest time," she said of her search for a home. "We stayed at a motel trying to find one."
Her focus has been helping her kids, finding a home and setting up a home. Voting just didn't come into mind.
But on Thursday afternoon, with the help of the Lord's Place, a nonprofit dedicated to aiding the homeless community in Palm Beach County, she finally filled out her voter registration.
"I might as well try while I'm here," Tapia said.
Lord's Place says homeless citizens should have voice at ballot box
Tapia, 46, was the first person to fill out her voter registration forms at the Lord's Place's first voter outreach and registration event at Café Joshua on Thursday afternoon. The voter drive is going to be held again July 21 at 11:30 a.m. and July 22 at noon to continue to encourage homeless residents to vote.
Both dates are ahead of the close of voter registration for the Aug. 23 primary elections.
"It's really important that every vote, every voice is counted," said Jennifer Sellars, the director of community engagement and advocacy of The Lord's Place. "We just want to make sure that everybody knows what their voting rights are, and that they have access and the information they need to participate so their voices can be heard."
Aside from ensuring that each voice is counted, Sellars said the nonprofit wants to make sure that members of the homeless community are aware of their rights to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. She spoke to about 20 people to make them aware of their voting rights, and the Thursday event's focus was to educate the community on the importance of registering to vote.
The Lord's Place helped keep Tapia out of the streets for a few weeks by paying for the motel rooms and helping to pay for initial deposits for her rental. It also is her source of food with its Cafe Joshua program, where homeless residents get a free meal between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
People are being pushed out of their homes by spiking housing, rental costs
"The housing crisis is definitely pushing people out of the community," Sellars said. Most of the homeless residents who were eating at Joshua's said they had been recently pushed out of their rentals due to extreme increases in rent.
"People that have been evicted, they're not thinking about voting right now," said Danzell Madison, the outreach lead peer specialist for The Lord's Place. She said she works to provide resources to the homeless community and counsel its members on how they can receive help financially with moving costs and employment services.
"They're angry right now and they're wondering, you know, as being a constituent, why this is happening to them. But I have to explain to them that this is not only happening here in Palm Beach County. It's happening all over the United States," Madison said.
Florida Atlantic University's April review of 107 real estate markets showed that Southeast Florida — which includes Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — increased in rental cost by 31.7%. The average rent in Southeast Florida, per the review, reached $2,846.
Marcelle Terence, a 62-year-old disabled veteran who has lived in Palm Beach County for 20 years, said he fell victim to a sharp rise in rent, which soared to $2,000 from $1,150. Since March, he's been living in his car.
"Voting is important for everybody, not just people in certain positions," he said. "Everybody should voice their opinion of what's going on, and they will be because they're going to find themselves out in the elements like I am."
The Lord's Place also works with homeless residents to ensure they have the documentation they need when they go to the polls. The nonprofit provides transportation and bus passes to clients to make sure they have access to voting sites, and they also connect homeless residents to St. Ann Place in West Palm Beach and St. George's Center in Riviera Beach to use as addresses for their mail and for signing up to vote.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, only about 10% of homeless Americans vote each year.
Want to vote?
The Palm Beach County deadline to register to vote for the primaries is July 25. The Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office lists has 991,030 voter registrations as of Wednesday evening, which is 400 voters lower than the number of active voters for the 2020 primary elections.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Lords Place launches voter registration campaign for homeless citizens