Historic election stirs homeless to vote

Tue Nov 4, 2008 9:18pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Frederick Williams, a Marine Corps veteran scraping by on unemployment benefits, describes his living situation as "not homeless but close to it" and says he never cared enough to vote -- until Tuesday.

At age 43, Williams shuffled into a Los Angeles homeless shelter carrying his worldly belongings in a small travel case and a knotted plastic bag and proudly cast the first ballot of his life with guidance from poll workers.

Williams said he voted for Barack Obama, whose message of hope and bid to become the first black president of the United States stirred him like no other politician.

"This is history in the making. I wanted to be part of that," said Williams, who lives in a transient hotel a few blocks from the polling station at the Los Angeles Mission.

"For once in my lifetime ... someone really cares about the small people out there."

Williams was one of hundreds of people -- many first-time voters lacking permanent dwellings -- who cast ballots this year on Skid Row, a 50-block downtown area believed to harbor the highest concentration of homeless in the United States.

Those voters represent a fraction of the estimated 12,000 people who live and sleep on the streets of that area. Many are mentally ill or suffer from substance abuse.

But Orlando Ward, spokesman for the nearby Midnight Mission, said the numbers turning out on Tuesday were unprecedented. Some used the shelter's address to register, though a street corner can be listed as a place of residence.   Continued...

<p>Frederick Williams, a Marine Corps veteran who lives in a transient hotel on "skid row" in downtown Los Angeles, displays his ballot receipt after casting his ballot for the U.S. presidential election, at a homeless shelter in Los Angeles November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Steve Gorman</p>