Belfast Telegraph

General Election: Northern Ireland homeless charities helping people to polling stations

By Anna McKibbin

Homeless charities across Northern Ireland are using their resources to help send people to polling stations on Thursday.

Last year, 18,180 households presented as homeless in Northern Ireland, which the Simon Community claims represents around 55,000 people.

Mark Forsythe, who has managed the Lighthouse Hostel in Ballymena for nine years, said that the first step in encouraging the people they house to vote was "enabling them to get an ID".

This meant driving and accompanying people to Newtownabbey where they were able to sign up for and purchase some form of identification.

Homeless people can't register to vote with a permanent address so instead they can make a 'declaration of local connection'.

The Welcome Organisation, the Lighthouse Hostel and Depaul allow their homeless residents to use the shelter's address as their 'local connection'.

Each person living in a Simon Community project or Lighthouse shelter is assigned a support worker, who offers clients encouragement and professional aid.

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This extends to helping their clients register to vote and getting them to the polling station.

The Depaul charity in Belfast stressed that as an organisation it is apolitical, but members make sure to "signpost that a vote is taking place".

A spokesperson for Depaul said that, first and foremost, they are trying to encourage their residents "to get independent". Their charity offers transportation to a polling station if necessary, but refuses to influence people into voting one way or the other.

Mr Forsythe said that the Lighthouse charity is a "client-led" organisation where they prioritise the individual. Similar to Depaul, if they wish to vote, Lighthouse and its volunteers will "help them to register" and take them to their local polling stations.

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