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Homeless candidate steps down from Orlando election race

May 10 2012
Salvation Army refuses to get involved in political arena by providing documentation


Homeless Florida resident Bruce Shawen was forced to pull out of the race for Orlando City Council after shelters such as The Salvation Army (which operates hundreds of shelters across North America) refused to back his candidacy.

Shawen told The Pavement that the Salvation Army provided the proof of residency documentation for his current Florida State and voter ID card but when asked to provide further documentation to help him qualify for the election, they refused.

“I ran for city council on the suggestion of an Orlando City Police detective, that was hoping that if I were to oust the current District 4 commissioner, I would once again allow the City Police to get back to the job of arresting bad guys, and stop harassing people that wanted to give a sandwich to someone that was hungry!”

The Salvation Army typically provides letters for long-term transitional residents but could not confirm whether or not they had been involved with Shawen.

“The Salvation Army used the excuse that they did not want to get involved in the political arena, but my honest belief is that someone in the city government instructed their administrators to refuse to help,” Shawen told The Pavement.

After being let down by the Salvation Army, Shawen then requested letters from other homeless and legal advocacy groups in order to verify that he lived in Orlando. Shortly after submission these were deemed ‘unsatisfactory’.

In order to qualify for office in Orlando a candidate must have proof of residency in the form of a lease or mortgage document, utility bills and a Florida driver’s licence registration. Despite being a registered voter, Shawen was unable to qualify as a candidate in the Orlando City Commissioner ballot as he does not rent, lease or own his own property in Orlando and as a result is not considered to be a resident.

“Unless you can prove home ownership, a rental agreement, or a lease of some kind, you are not considered a resident. However, I do find it rather disturbing that one essentially can “buy” their way onto the ballot for the right price. In my case I even had the money, but couldn’t get onto the ballot,” Shawen told The Pavement. “When I found that there was no agency or shelter that would back me in terms of helping me to prove my residency, I knew that the race was over and that there was no way that I would be able to qualify for the city ballot… therefore, I pulled out of the race.”

Had Shawen been allowed run for office he said he would have voted to eradicate the antifeeding policy in Orlando whereby someone is legally required to hold a permit before they can feed a crowd of 25 people or more, with only two allowed per year for each of the city’s parks.

He also said that he would have overturned the city’s controversial program that allows for a homeless person to leave town via a pre-paid bus ticket courtesy of the City of Orlando, provided that the homeless person in question can supply a phone number of a contact person in their home town.

“What the city government fails to recognise is that many homeless people have lost many of their possessions, which usually includes phone numbers and addresses of friends and relatives,” said Shawen.

“I would have pushed to allow individuals to leave regardless of the availability of a contact number, provided that they agree in writing not to return to Orlando as a homeless transient.”

Shawen even raised the $1,438 required to pay filing fees to run for office by responding to advertisements in the local newspaper. As a result, he is considering taking legal action against the city supported by former attorney for Food Not Bombs, Jacqueline Dowd, who signed his residency claim.

Orlando has been described as being the third meanest city with regards to its treatment of the homeless and Florida claims the number one spot for being the most violent towards homeless people. In 2009 alone, there were nearly 50,000 filings for foreclosure in Florida.

Part of the Florida’s so-called ‘underclass’, Shawen has been homeless for over three years and lives in a camp in the woods, which he describes as “quite comfortable...with all of the luxuries of home, sans electricity”.

Shawen’s story is not unlike many in the US who have found themselves in debt as a result of the economic downturn. Shawen has a Bachelor’s Degree from Frostburg State University in Maryland but became homeless after he lost his job as a plumber and struggled to keep up with his rent. He claims it is nearly impossible for a homeless person to get a job in Orlando as an address is required by most employers.

“Unfortunately, the ranks of the homeless are growing every day at an alarming rate. Since the economic collapse during the GW Bush administration took place here in America, those that used to be considered the middle class are now considered the poor, and those that were once the poor are now the homeless. Foreclosures and unemployment are steadily growing concerns and little to nothing is being done to alleviate the situation.”