Cawley Lewis fishes around in her handbag, digging out a glossy business card featuring a colorful caricature of a woman wearing orange cleaning gloves and an apron and holding a sudsy bucket and brush.
The card advertises Cawley to the Rescue, a home cleaning business Lewis started in 1992. But when her car was stolen this year, Lewis said, she could no longer get to her clients’ homes. Unable to pay rent, the 52-year-old was evicted from her Quincy apartment and was suddenly left without a home.
But that doesn’t mean she has to be left without a vote.
“You can cry all you want; nothing’s going to change if you don’t vote,” Lewis said. “That’s a privilege. I don’t know that much about government politics, but I just know we need help.”
Lewis was among 71 homeless people who registered to vote Thursday at the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter. She has been voting since she was 18 and regards voting as one more step toward her goal of leaving Pine Street, where she has lived a little more than a month.
Organizers have conducted voter registration drives at the shelter the past three presidential election cycles to remind the residents that, despite being homeless, they can still vote by using shelter addresses. Voters must update their registration each time they move.
“A lot of our guests were under the impression they could not vote because they didn’t have a permanent address, and because some had been incarcerated,” said Lyndia Downie, Pine Street’s president. “The worst part about being homeless is that you feel invisible, and this is one way of saying you’re not invisible.”
State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz told the crowd that since she started campaigning for office in 2006, she has made it a point to come to the shelter and talk to people about their concerns. She encouraged residents with voting experience to guide the newly registered.
“I’m here to urge you not to miss this opportunity to use that right,” said Chang-Diaz, a Democrat. “I’m 34 years old, so I’ve been voting for several years, and I still get a thrill when I vote, knowing my vote counts. I want you all to experience that feeling.”
State Representative Elizabeth A. Malia told the crowd that government needs to put more money toward mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention programs. Voting, she said, is one way to push those issues to the forefront.
“There are strong reasons to vote, especially at this time,” said Malia, a Jamaica Plain Democrat. “Registering and voting may not seem like a big thing to each of us sometimes when we’re in our busy day, or when we’re having a lot of problems.
“But believe me,” the legislator said, “the people who have the money and have the power in this country are banking on the fact that a lot of us won’t register or have too much difficulty accessing a chance to vote.”
Warren Magee filled out his voter registration form while sitting in his joystick-controlled power wheelchair. Since he broke his neck in three places in a bicycle accident at age 29, Magee, who is staying in the men’s shelter at Pine Street, said life has not been easy.
But he said he has always worked hard to be an example to the younger generation, especially his 12-year-old daughter Sholisza. It is also the reason he registered to vote at Pine Street.
“It’s a matter of pride, respect, and dignity,” said Magee, who became homeless more than a year ago.
The 43-year-old said he has always traveled solo and slept anywhere he could, from abandoned cars and buildings, to the Boston Common, before landing at Pine Street in February. Sholisza knows her father is homeless. “It’s very gut wrenching,” Magee said.
By seeing that her father has registered to vote, Magee said, his daughter will have something positive to hold on to.
“Basically, it’s sending a strong message,” Magee said, “especially for my daughter. She needs to know that when she gets older, she’ll be able to exercise her right to vote.”