People without a home are being offered help in registering to vote by staff at a city centre cafe in Bristol.
Workers at the Arnolfini Cafe Bar are offering help printing out, filling in and sending off the necessary form to rough sleepers or anyone else without a permanent address – as well as a free hot drink while they do it.
Domhnaill Barnes, head of operations at the cafe’s owners the Bristol Beer Factory, told PA: “This is a completely apolitical process, we’re not advising people how to vote, we’re just trying to assist people into voting.”
Please share! Some of the team have started a small initiative to help people who are homeless vote...help us get the word out there! @ArnolfiniCafe @bristol247 @BristolShelter @bristolhomeless @EmmausBristol @JulianTrust @caringinbristol @bristol247 pic.twitter.com/sYmY0XZP1D— Bristol Beer Factory (@BrisBeerFactory) November 19, 2019
According to the Electoral Commission, those without a fixed address can register using an address “where you spend a lot of your time or have some connection”.
Bristol City Council said the move was perfectly legal, and that it supported the cafe’s initiative, while Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy tweeted: “Great initiative from Arnolfini – no-one should lose their right to vote because they don’t have a place to live.”
Great initiative from Arnolfini - no-one should lose their right to vote because they don't have a place to live. https://t.co/KvMwFM7S0k— Kerry McCarthy (@KerryMP) November 22, 2019
As of Friday morning, Mr Barnes said “about half a dozen” people had taken the cafe up on their offer, and he was expecting more as word of the initiative continues to spread.
“It’s a tragedy that their voices wouldn’t be heard,” he said. “Often these are people on the margins of society and so I think just allowing us to do one small thing to bring them back into the social discourse, the political discussion is a valuable thing for us to be doing.”
Mr Barnes said other organisations around the country had been in touch expressing an interest in setting up similar schemes.
He said many people were unaware that those without a home are able to register to vote, adding: “I think one of the best things about this process is the education of people, the fact that people without a home are able to register to vote and can vote, because everyone I’ve spoken to about this was completely unaware of that.”
Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, said many homeless people believe they are ineligible to vote.
Chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “We can all agree no-one should be excluded from voting simply because they don’t have a permanent address. But for many people across the country, this remains a huge barrier.
“Without a safe and secure home of their own, many people experiencing homelessness think they are not eligible to vote but this is simply not the case.
“Registering under a past address, where you are staying temporarily or an address nearest to where you are rough sleeping are all available options.”