Can You Vote Your Way Out of Homelessness?

SourceSean Culligan/OZY

Can You Vote Your Way Out of Homelessness?

By Alexander Lau, Carly Stern and Sean Culligan


Because homelessness is political.

By Alexander Lau, Carly Stern and Sean Culligan

Here in California, we’re in the middle of a housing emergency. As a native New Yorker-turned-West-Coast transplant, it’s become clear to me that the long-cherished “California dream” today means nothing but empty promises to many. Last year alone, roughly 49,500 people experienced homelessness in the City of Angels — a number thought to be an undercount.

But the voting booth is one place where people can make their voices heard — and having a home isn’t a prerequisite for being able to vote. Housing measures can be determined on the ballot, from local propositions to distribute funding to statewide measures that could reshape zoning laws. On the national level, Democratic presidential candidates have released housing plans.

Six weeks before Californians cast their ballots in the March 3 primary, I visited the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). LA CAN is a non-profit primarily made up of members who are experiencing, or have experienced, poverty. It drives voter education, registration and mobilization efforts. What LA CAN doesn’t do? It doesn’t endorse candidates.

So I walked into LA CAN’s Skid Row office to see who wanted to talk. I sat down with three people to discuss whether they planned to vote, why and what they care about.

[Audio interviews have been edited for length and clarity.]


Source Carly Stern/OZY

General Dogon, Age 58

LA CAN Member and Co-Chair of the Human and Civil Rights Committee

General Dogon was living in a subsidized Single Residency Occupancy in downtown Los Angeles with his partner, from whom he recently got divorced. Dogon says he will be on the waitlist for a new residence with the Skid Row Housing trust, but expects to live outside until a unit is available. He’s organizing for Skid Row to get its own neighborhood council.



Source Carly Stern/OZY

Elliot Katz, Age 57

LA CAN Member, Staff Receptionist, Legal Clinic Intake Specialist and Housing Committee Member

Elliot Katz has lived in the same subsidized SRO unit in Downtown Los Angeles for 17 years. Katz has lived in his car and stayed with family or friends temporarily, but he’s never slept outside. Katz is registered with no party preference, but ordered a Democratic ballot and plans to vote in this primary and general election.



Source Carly Stern/OZY

Pete White, Age 51

Founder and Executive Director of LA CAN 

Pete White has always been housed, but has family who have experienced housing insecurity. He’s a community organizer and civil rights advocate who has worked on passing local ballot measures focused on directing funds toward building housing and providing services to unhoused people. White considers voting to be one tool of many at people’s disposal to effect change. He plans to vote in this primary and general election.