By Mike Kinney and Kathy Chouteau
The lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel at Hilltop was abuzz with worker bees from the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) on Saturday whose mission was to help the homeless register to vote.
Currently, GRIP is providing services to homeless community members who are staying at the hotel as part of California’s Project Roomkey initiative, which aims to support this vulnerable population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the hotel’s lobby Saturday, GRIP staff and community volunteers could be seen in-taking and assisting the new residents with filling out their voter registration application forms.
“This is a population that is displaced, but not without the right to vote, in one of the most important elections of our time,” said GRIP Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan.
“We have been asked for the last few months by our homeless residents about how they can vote. We had to make it happen,” she added.
And they are making it happen. According to Sullivan, GRIP registered 30 people to vote Saturday and their efforts won’t stop there. They plan to host another voter registration event Saturday, Oct. 3 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Marriott, 3150 Garrity Way in Richmond. Before the weekend, GRIP will team up with San Francisco State University nursing students Thursday, Oct. 1 from 1-3 p.m. to go out to local homeless encampments to reach more people.
Among those registered to vote Saturday were 83-year-old Doretha Hall, her daughter, Denise, 53, and her 30-year-old grandson, all of whom had just enjoyed their first night sleeping in clean, comfortable beds at the Marriott. Since September, the Hall family had been living in a broken-down 2004 Ford Escalade along Rydin Road by Point Isabel Dog Park.
When asked about how she felt about registering to vote, Doretha smiled and said, “It is wonderful to be a part of democracy and to know we can vote again.” For their part, GRIP staff could be seen working closely with the Halls to ensure their voter registration forms were properly completed.
Doretha’s daughter, Denise, also shared her perspective. “I am here to register to vote today because we should have a better president. That would help with getting jobs, to help low-income people and people who are on the streets and that are homeless. And help people who really, really need sheltering. We need that kind of president. Somebody who will help us and guide us in the right direction.”
Volunteer Cesar Zepeda of the West County Waste Water District was on hand to help translate any questions for the Spanish speaking residents. “It is important that everyone needs to be registered to vote for the election this year,” he said.
In pursuing—and realizing—its goal of registering West County’s homeless population to vote, GRIP partnered with many organizations.
“GRIP had reached out to some of the most qualified voter education resources in our community,” said Sullivan. “They included the League of Women Voters, NAACP, Black Women Organized for Political Action, West County Democratic Club, Urban Strategies, Cesar Zepeda and the West County Water District, the San Francisco State University Community Health Nurses and Black Women Lead.”
“This is so important, but it is more an issue for this community because the homeless are not necessarily the ones who would be considered a population to target to vote,” Sullivan added. “If it were not for organizations like [those mentioned above], this population would not even be considered as voting members of our community. So, we plan to register those in our community who are homeless so their voices can be heard.”
To learn more about GRIP’s community work, or to donate, click here.