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Forgotten Ballots this Election Season?

Without a door to put a campaign flyer on, were Idaho's homeless remembered as a potential block?

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Marland Williams wished he would have worn a different shirt.

"I have one that says 'Pray, vote, pray,'" Williams explained, saying he felt his shirt had a strong message. "There's a lot of things in this country we need to pray for."

Thus began an open-minded political discussion in one of the least likely venues. Williams was one of approximately 200 homeless who filled the River of Life Rescue Mission recently.

Leslie Hug, 46, was a house framer for most of his life. After losing his wife and his father in a matter of weeks, Hug said his life changed.

"I lost my place, my car, my mind, and I ended up here. Thank God this place is here because I don't know where I would have ended up."

This is the first time in Hug's life that he's identified himself as homeless. The silver-haired Hug offered a warm smile through his handlebar mustache. He volunteers 40 hours of his time every week to manning the front desk at River of Life. He said he sends money he earns to his children and new granddaughter.

Hug said he wants to see change--not from people's pockets but from politicians. Hug said he won't leave Idaho with his family here, and so the state needs to "straighten up and get the economy on track."

While Hug and Williams both said they believed efforts to increase voter turnout among the homeless would be beneficial, both men acknowledge the sense of voter apathy that exists in the community.

"A bunch of our congressmen voted against the extension of unemployment, and so many of us are on unemployment," said Hug. "That's our only source of income. We figure that the politicians and government, they don't care. They really don't care about us."

"I want to try and follow politics, but not get so consumed by it, because I'm working on hard issues now, myself," said Williams. "I want to get right in my own life before I start judging others. But we do have a voice, and a vote."

Both also agreed that the population at the men's mission is diverse--not everyone is as politically minded. However, River Of Life Director David Brooks said that any groups looking to assist with voter registration or political education would "absolutely be welcomed. This is kind of an untapped voting pool, so to speak, not a big pool, but it's here."

The River of Life's guests, as well as those in any of the Boise Rescue Mission's other ministries, are required to have identification. In the fairly rare instance that someone attempts to check into the shelter without any form of ID, the staff helps them obtain one. It also helped those at the shelter if they chose to vote this year.

New Idaho laws require voters to have some form of ID or sign an affidavit saying that they are who they claim to be. Brooks said that it isn't common to find someone checking into a shelter without an ID, and at River of Life only five to 10 new guests per month require assistance in getting one.

Williams said he didn't see any issue with the new law.

"I think the greatest countries lift the people up from the ground floor."

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