New Civic Engagement Program

September 28, 2020

Civic Engagement for Reentry:
For individuals impacted by the criminal legal system, deepened engagement with civic activities and roles provides an opportunity for empowerment and self-determination. Mounting research throughout the past five years has demonstrated the efficacy of civic and community engagement in reducing recidivism. Positioned alongside the other reentry supports, formerly incarcerated individuals who are in touch with the “rights, roles, responsibilities, resources and relationships” of civic, family and community life are less likely to face new convictions within three years of release.

This fall, Broad Street Ministry’s Reentry Services program has initiated a Civic Engagement pilot where trained workers engage our guests, supporting them in registering to vote and participating in the 2020 U.S. Census. Already, within the first week of this pilot, more than 50 individuals have completed a voter registration application and census questionnaire.

Voice for the Unheard:
Broad Street Ministry is providing onsite access for all BSM guests to complete the 2020 census, register to vote, and request a mail in ballot in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election. This effort will ensure that low income and homeless persons who are economically disadvantaged maintain an active role and voice in shaping the future of their community and country.

Counting Our Invisible Citizens:
People experiencing homelessness likely have been undercounted in the census for decades. The 2010 census recorded 209,325 homeless individuals. That same year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recorded 637,077 homeless individuals with their *Point In Time count—showing a huge disparity in representation between individuals experiencing homelessness and those who participated in the census. As a result, the needs of this diverse population—and the communities where they live— may not be represented or prioritized fully and appropriately. There are a number of ways that the 2020 Census will count people experiencing homelessness in the United States. However, more can and should be done to ensure that this population is measured as accurately as possible.

People experiencing homelessness are among the populations considered “hard to count” by census officials. The needs of this diverse population and the communities where they live are often not represented or prioritized according to their real share of the population. Many are living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, safe havens, tent cities, cars, abandoned buildings, and on the street. Many more suffer from mental illness  or fear that census-takers could report them to law enforcement making this task even more challenging.

Being “hard to count” can lead to being denied a full voice in policy decision-making. Undercounting people experiencing homelessness in the 2020 Census could also impact how federal funding is allocated to states and localities. Many programs benefiting people experiencing homelessness are funded based in whole or in part on census-derived data. It is therefore important to inform people experiencing homelessness that they can be included on the census form, as fully counted and represented members of their community.

In order to support guests in overcoming anxieties or challenges in completing the census, BSM offers technology to use in order to fill out the census and create a campaign with flyers and signage to dispel myths and encourage guests to get counted in the 2020 Census.  As a trusted provider, we are well set up to bridge these gaps to ensure our guests are included.

Barriers to Voting for People Experiencing Homelessness:
Each election, low income and individuals experiencing homeless vote at a lower rate than people with higher incomes, despite the fact that many policy decisions directly impact people who are economically disadvantaged. In order for our government to truly represent the people, citizens must vote—especially those who are economically disadvantaged.

For years, people experiencing homelessness have faced obstacles to registering. Although it has been established that homeless individuals do not need to live in a traditional residence to register to vote, many homeless and low income individuals may not have the appropriate identification documents required by Pennsylvania to vote. Furthermore, many individuals who are experiencing homelessness may lack the resources to educate themselves about candidates or may not be able to get to the polls on Election Day.

To overcome these obstacles and encourage greater voter participation among low income and homeless citizens, Broad Street Ministry expanded its current program—offering guests the opportunity to register to vote in time for the November election and assisting them with registration for mail in ballots.  Temporary staff engages guests who are participating in our services and will be prepared with tablets to walk guests through the registration process.

BSM—A Trusted Community for Thousands of Vulnerable Neighbors:

While our meals initially bring guests through our doors, our ability to decrease anxiety and foster trust encourages guests to access the stabilizing supports offered in tandem with our meals. Our initial focus with our guests is restoring identity and hope. Among its offerings, BSM is the mailing address for 3,000 Philadelphians, a crucial service to begin to secure state identification. With the address in hand, BSM then helps our guests gather needed formal documentation and eventually apply for state identification. Now that our guests are equipped with a mailing address and ID, the next natural step was to expand this program to include access to these additional crucial services—ensuring that all of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community are accounted for and their voiced heard.

* The Point-in-Time (PIT) count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. HUD requires that Continuums of Care conduct an annual count of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and Safe Havens on a single night.