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Voter registration drive targets homeless

At the Pine Street Inn, Daniel Farquharson, 58, registered to vote for the first time in his life.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

At the Pine Street Inn, Daniel Farquharson, 58, registered to vote for the first time in his life.

Daniel Farquharson registered to vote for the first time ever Wednesday, at the age of 58. Homeless since 2007, the Quincy native said his top issue in the upcoming city election is deeply personal.

“Get more affordable housing,” said Farquharson, who was living in a shelter even before he recently lost his job. “When I was working, I didn’t make enough to afford a decent place.”

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Farquharson said he hasn’t decided whether he will give his vote for mayor to Councilor John R. Connolly or state Representative Martin J. Walsh but said he was satisfied they prevailed in the 12-candidate preliminary election.

“The two that they finally settled on would have been my pick,” he said.

Eddie Prosper looked over some literature from Councilor Bill Linehan, who was at the Pine Street Inn on Wednesday.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Eddie Prosper looked over some literature from Councilor Bill Linehan, who was at the Pine Street Inn on Wednesday.

Conventional wisdom says Boston elections are won and lost in high-turnout neighborhoods such as West Roxbury and South Boston, but advocates for the homeless are working to ensure that voters with no permanent address also make their voices heard.

At a Wednesday afternoon voter registration drive at the Pine Street Inn, Lyndia Downie, the shelter’s executive director, said voting has a symbolic as well as practical value for the shelter’s residents.

“For many of our folks, they’re feeling very isolated and feeling forgotten about,” Downie said, “and getting ready to vote means they’re thinking about being part of a community again.”

Downie said the shelter has held registration drives for each major election in the past seven or eight years, registering an average of 100 voters. It has partnered for the effort with other homeless service organizations including Rosie’s Place, St. Francis House, and the Women’s Lunch Place.

Downie said many of the homeless hope the government will address issues important in their own lives.

“Housing is the first one, always,” she said. “Jobs are second. I think we hear about health care, because a lot of people that come here have had a catastrophic illness.”

Dozens of men crowded around tables in a spartan, locker-lined common room to sign up Wednesday.

Downey told the men their circumstances should not prevent them from voting. They can use the shelter’s address to register, she said, and those with criminal records have the right to vote under state law.

Noah Mank came to the drive, but he didn’t need to register. Mank, 27, said registering to vote was one of the first things he did after coming to the shelter three months ago.

Mank believes in the power of government to give citizens “an opportunity to be heard,” he said, especially at the local level. The Hyannis native hasn’t followed the Boston races closely so far, but plans to study up so he will be prepared to vote Nov. 5, he said.

“If you’re not making an informed decision, you might as well not make any decision at all,” Mank said.

Mank’s friend Eddie Prosper, also 27, was disappointed he could not register because he is not yet a citizen, he said.

A native of the Bahamas, Prosper works for a Cambridge fund-raising firm that counts several Democratic organizations among its clients, and he follows politics closely, he said.

“I’m always watching CNN and MSNBC,” he said. “I see what’s going on.”

Joseph Haddad was another Pine Street resident already registered. The 50-year-old said he had been a voter since he was 18.

He lamented that politicians often overlook homeless and impoverished people.

“I’d like to see a lot of things change in the world,” Haddad said, “especially with homeless people that need help real bad.”

Councilor Bill Linehan, whose district includes the shelter, told the crowd they didn’t have to vote for him, but they should turn up at the polls.

“If you had 100 committed votes out of here every election, people like me would be lined up around the corner to come down here and talk to you,” Linehan said.

Suzanne Lee, a former principal at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School who is challenging Linehan, also spoke, something she said she has done for several years.

Lee said many of the homeless whom she has met landed on the streets after a health crisis depleted their finances.

“It can be any one of us,” she said. “To me, homelessness is really a public health issue.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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