Boise's homeless population, while living in the city's shadows, may well be shadowing the citizenry in the run up to the Tuesday, Nov. 8, municipal elections as political engagement runs the spectrum from the overly anxious down to the disinterested.
Homeless voters receive limited assistance in accessing the polls and may even think they aren't allowed to vote. Although shelters managed by the Boise Rescue Mission communicate locations of nearby polling precincts, residents are on their own when it comes to registering and gaining knowledge on issues.
Idaho law requires voters to provide official identification--a driver's license or DMV-issued ID card. Any potential voter without identification can sign an affidavit confirming his or her identity under penalty of perjury.
David Brooks, director of River of Life, the Boise Rescue Mission's shelter for men, said most men checking into the River Street facility have some form of identification. When they don't, Brooks said, "We'll even go so far as to get birth certificates if they have completely lost their identification."
Voter registration, while required, may not be enough for engaging the homeless population. Hopelessness and apathy remain significant hurdles.
Virgil Daniel is a tall, friendly man with a firm handshake and a ready smile. When asked how he's doing, Daniel said he is "very blessed," despite his current circumstances. But his optimism trailed off when talking about voting. He said he "doesn't see the point in registering, much less voting."
"I'm not registered," said Daniel. "My one vote is not going to change anything."
Describing himself as a traveler, Daniel lived in many places before settling in Boise. He has a chronic heart condition that makes it difficult for him to work and that keeps him close to the River of Life.
"I'm sick. That's why I'm here during the day," he said.
There is nothing he can do to improve his heart condition, just like he feels there's nothing he can do to change the government.
"The government is going to do what the government is going to do, whether I vote or not," he said.
Peter, who asked Boise Weekly not to use his last name, is slim and slightly stooped, with carefully combed gray hair. While currently living at River of Life, he said he's not "a typical homeless voter," explaining that he normally votes.
"I voted in every election I can remember since I was 21," he said proudly.
Stefaney, who also declined to give her last name, shares Peter's point of view. She has been staying at City Light, the mission's Boise shelter for women, for a week after recently being released from prison. She said that her years of being behind bars invigorated her interest in voting.
"We're still the American people," she said. "Just because you're homeless does not mean you don't have a right to vote."
"I don't think it's that they don't care," Stefaney said, describing other homeless voters' apathy. "It's that they're tired. They're beaten down. The higher-ups are always trying to quiet the lower-downs."