Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church was listed as the residence of 76 Harris County voters, likely because of their work with the homeless.
Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church was listed as the residence of 76 Harris County voters, likely because of their work with the homeless.
Photo via Google Street View

Republican Voter Registration Challenge Has Several of Houston's Homeless Shelters On It

A detailed look at the list of challenges to the voter registration rolls filed by Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee Chairman Alan Vera reveals that individuals using facilities dedicated to the homeless as residency addresses were among the 4,000 people targeted.

The challenges were filed by Vera on July 30 with Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Ann Bennett Harris’ office. Texas election laws state that any registered voter may challenge the legitimacy of any other voters he or she may suspect are not using their home address on their official paperwork. Vera’s list included office parks, warehouses and UPS stores.

In addition, the challenge list had a startling number of facilities used by homeless people in the Houston area. The Beacon at 1212 Prairie had 15 such challenges. When contacted, The Beacon said that they partner with COMPASS, a group dedicated to helping the disadvantaged through employment and other means, to allow people staying at the shelter to receive their mail, including government documents such as voter registration paperwork. The Beacon is also where many of the people temporarily staying with the Salvation Army on North Main Street are referred to. The Salvation Army was listed in 23 challenges, despite the fact that the organization does not allow people to use it as a mail service.

Star of Hope Mission, Healthcare for the Homeless and The Hope Center were also among the challenged addresses. Aable Bail Bonds had 18 challenges, likely because they formerly ran a bunkhouse for homeless clients on the second floor.

Patients listing substance abuse and mental health care center addresses were included as well. The Houston Recovery Center, which attempts to divert individuals caught intoxicated in public away from incarceration, had 12 challenges on Vera’s list. Patients may reside at the facility for 18 months according to their media relations department.

Though it was listed simply as Harris County Corrections on the  spreadsheet Vera sent to Bennett’s office, the address used in seven challenges was actually that of the Young Men About Change residential program. Stays at the YMAC can last up to a year, in which time individuals “participate in groups to address substance abuse issues, motivational groups, process groups, encounter group, anger management, individual counseling, GED or Adult Basic Education classes, life skills, ropes challenge course, recreation opportunities, and various other programs that will assist the resident in their success while on community supervision and beyond.”

Individuals using temporary housing have been encouraged by the Texas government to list shelters as their addresses for voting purposes. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston one year ago, VoteTexas.gov stated:

If you consider the shelter to be your home for now, then you can register at that address. If the shelter cannot receive mail, then you may wish to use a P.O. Box or other mailing address to which your new voter registration certificate can be mailed. If the shelter can receive mail, a person could put that address as their mailing address on the voter registration application. This will then allow the voter to ask for a ballot to be sent to that address. Note that only if the address of the shelter is an individual’s official mailing address on the list of registered voters can an individual request that a ballot be sent to that address.

Challenges to P.O. Boxes, UPS stores and other mailing service centers were a significant chunk of Vera’s list. Whether the people challenged were homeless or using the services for other reasons – to escape stalking, for example – is currently unknown. Vera’s letter to Bennett’s office stated he believed the challenged were attempting to “circumvent the intent of the Texas Election Code.”

It is not uncommon for homeless people to register to vote at shelter addresses. For instance, Covenant House, which specializes in young people leaving abusive homes, especially sexual and gender minorities, has 205 people registered to vote at its address. These were not among Vera’s challenges, though.

Eleven young people were challenged at the DePelchin Children’s Center, a foster care and adoption agency. The facility maintains a dorm that voting-age residents that they can use for their voter registration.

“Everything is completely above the board,” a spokesperson for the center told us.

College dorms saw challenges, too. There were 27 of them between the University of Houston, Rice and Strake Jesuit.

Churches that have or have had programs for the homeless saw some of the most numerous challenges. Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church formerly ran The Way Station, a meals service for the homeless that also allowed them to receive mail. The program was discontinued in 2015, but a whopping 91 people still have the church as their residence on their voter registration. Lord of the Street Episcopal is another church with a vast impact on Houston’s homeless population. They operate a free clinic, a notary and referrals for government identification. Vera’s list challenged 76 people who listed the church as their address. Christ Church Cathedral, which founded New Hope Housing to aid the homeless and near-homeless, had 32 challenges.

Since we first began reporting on the challenges, Vera has not responded to our request for comment, nor have we been able to ascertain how the list was compiled. Houstonians in shelter or temporary housing situations are following the instructions of the Texas Secretary of State laid out through TexasVot.gov a year ago when they use available means at those places to register to vote. The Harris County Republican Party’s list of challenges affects some of the city’s most vulnerable people, and those with the fewest means to correct the record in time for the November midterms.

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