On Monday, September 21st, we saw an incredible thing. We watched 500 people line up to vote.

And it wasn’t even a real election.

It was a fake.

A mock election.

And those who lined up?

They live on the streets.

They have no home.

So we organized a mock election to help them get their voices heard.

These are often people whose voices we ignore. They speak to us on the street and we pass by them, barely acknowledging that they’ve spoken.

If almost everyone you spoke to in a day ignored you, why would you think that your voice counted enough to vote?

What would motivate you to search out the information required to make an informed decision if every time you work up the courage to speak you were rewarded with silence?

And if you don’t have a fixed address?

What then?

You have no home and therefore no way to register to vote. What riding do you belong to if you live nowhere?

So the Client Action Committee (CAC) of the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) organized a mock election. Ten members of the CAC, all with lived experience of homelessness themselves came up with a way to remove barriers to voting that this community faces.

They built it.

And 500 people came.

Designed to simulate the exact process of voting in an election, the mock election was held in four shelters around the city. The Alex, Alpha House, YWCA Mary Dover House and the Calgary Drop In & Rehab Centre each hosted a mock polling station for voting participants.

Designed to mimic a polling station, the mock election gave those who attended an overview of what is required to successfully vote as well as a simulation of the process itself. Resources with information around what constitutes a valid piece of identification, how many pieces are required and how to register to vote were all provided.

As for a registered address?

The Drop In Centre provided letters of stay; these letters act as one piece of valid identification and also serve as proof of address for each client to be able to register to vote in the Calgary Centre riding.

People lined up before the set up was even complete.

As reproducing a ballot with candidates prior to an election is illegal, clients instead voted on issues that they deemed most important to them in this federal election. The issues were: affordable housing, mental health, minimum income and harm reduction. They were also given the option to choose “other” and add an issue.

Information on party platforms was provided by the Drop In Centre as candidates will be visiting independently prior to the election. Elections Canada was present at the Drop In Centre to register clients to vote between 4pm-6pm.

And to what end? This project began with a desire to spark conversation, to give a voice to the voiceless, to back our words “You DO matter” with action.

And now?

Elections Canada is placing a polling station in the Drop In Centre on October 19th to give access to those who use its services.

This is the first time in Canada that a polling station has been placed in a shelter for a Federal Election.

Overall 472 clients participated with 60% of them selecting affordable housing as the issue they deemed most important to them in this upcoming federal election.