Inside the wide, sunlit foyer of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library, Eric Sheptock points to an expansive mural of the late civil rights activist. “I wish that the poor people of today were as willing to fight for justice as those who marched with Martin Luther King,” he says. “It seems that the poor have lost heart and are less willing to stand up for themselves.” Sheptock, who has been intermittently homeless since 1994, has become an activist for Washington DC’s homeless community, which he hopes will vote in the forthcoming elections when Americans head to the polls to choose their 45th president. “There is no reason for a homeless person not to vote,” he tells Al Jazeera. “You can’t be denied the right to vote because you’re homeless.”
While it is difficult to register to vote without a permanent address, it is not impossible. Many states now allow individuals to list the place they generally occupy as their residence, which can include a shelter or even a park bench. However, the requirement for official identification when voting can cause challenges for the homeless – obtaining a state-issued ID can be both complicated and costly.
But, as political discussions take place in living rooms across the United States, Washington DC’s homeless community also engages in its own political discourse – equally as captivated by the ongoing presidential campaign as the wider public, according to Sheptock. “I do hear a lot of homeless people talking about politics … We’ve had some pretty energetic conversations about Trump versus Clinton.”
He explains that free newspapers, televisions in homeless shelters and internet access in public libraries are invaluable sources of information on the presidential campaign.