Over the last year, west coast cities Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and the state of Hawaii declared a state of emergency on homelessness, with other cities considering it. But in the presidential election it’s receiving minimal political attention. At homeless camps Hazelnut Grove in Portland and Tent City 3 in Seattle, the issues that led people to become homeless reflect the issues facing many voters this election: spiraling rent, debt, access to healthcare and discrimination.
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Amyann Darden, 55, Seattle: ‘I was going to vote Republican but when I watched the Convention and saw what Trump stood for, I thought, “No way.” His platform’s based on hatred and fear. I'm horrified that some of my friends still support him.
So I’m voting for Hillary. Retaining social security is an important issue to me. I worked for 30 years and paid into it and then became disabled. I’m very afraid it will be phased out during a Trump presidency.
I was staying in motel rooms before I came to Tent City. I use my son’s address for everything, he’s in community living as he has schizophrenia. My ballot will be going there.
I want to stay in Seattle to be close to my children and grandchildren. My daughter doesn’t know I’m at the camp. She has a lot of money and has helped me pay off some medical bills to raise my credit score and I don't want to ask for further help right now; eventually I will be disabled to a point where I will need care and I’ll need to ask then.’
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Zoe White, 34, Portland: ‘I’ve voted every year I’ve been eligible. Generally Green or Socialist, sometimes Democrat. I’ll probably vote for Jill Stein this year. There’s no representation of ecologists, left causes or democratic socialism anywhere else.
I see Hillary Clinton as having a liberal wrapper around a traditionalist core. I don’t know whose interests she’s going to sell out to but I’m pretty sure she’s going to sell out. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary election. Now he’s telling people to vote for Hillary, I’m disappointed in him.
There are many misconceptions of houseless people. First of all, that we don’t work; we do. I had a job for a long time at a country club. I would say though that I’ve been subject to employment discrimination as a female who’s trans.
There are also the insinuations that we’re lazy, use drugs, we’re all thieves. In Hazelnut Grove, where I’m lucky enough to live, we’re an intentional community. If you steal from someone, you’re run the hell out. Here there’s the idea that if you put into the community, the community reciprocates. I feel like that type of culture is being squeezed out during the gentrification process [of Portland]. Property values are taking precedent over community.’
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Andrew Constantino, 41, Seattle: ‘I’m voting for Hillary. On her own merits, she’s committed to social issues and doing good. I would never even consider voting for Trump. But I have to watch the train wreck; I cannot STOP myself.
Some people think anyone getting government assistance automatically votes liberal, but that’s absolutely not true. You hear all these Trump lovers here. I try telling them, “Do you realize he’s the type of person who doesn’t care about anything that’s ever happened to you?” But it’s like being with your family at Thanksgiving; you try avoiding those conversations because they go nowhere.
I’ve lived in Seattle for almost 20 years. It’s become more and more expensive to survive. When my girlfriend and I lost our jobs very close together, we burned through our savings.
We’re both working full time again so it’s not an issue of we have no money or no options. It’s just there are no good options. I refuse to pay some exorbitant amount of rent to live in absolute poverty, I’d rather do this until there’s a reasonable option.’
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Roxy Garske, 58, Seattle: ‘I’m voting for Gary Johnson because he's not one of the other two. I don’t like Hillary because I don’t believe what she says; I don’t trust her after the emails. I think she’s too right wing. She’s more interested in the needs of the rich and powerful.
If I could only vote between her and Trump I’d choose her. The thought of him winning scares me, especially for women. I’ve got two daughters and two granddaughters. If he's voted in he’ll turn back the clock. He’s already stirring up trouble by getting people worried about immigrants.
None of the candidates are addressing homelessness. It’s an invisible society. Lots of people here don’t know they can vote. But when we had a voter drive, around 30 people registered and were excited to find they could vote.
I have peripheral neuropathy and spinal stenosis. This is the second time I’ve been homeless. About five years ago my husband said, "I'm going to get stuck taking care of you.” He said he wanted a divorce, which is fine. I was homeless while I waited for the settlement but then I got a house. I had to go into hospital and while I was very unwell, I lost my house. It went into foreclosure in July. I stayed with friends but they’ve got some other people staying there now, but I’m going back when they’re gone. I’m just here for a month.’
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Marvin Ross, 56, Portland: ‘Donald Trump is not important to me. He’s not down for the people. He’s got all this money so he doesn’t care what happens to the United States. I don’t see how being president is important to him. Why would he want to step down?
I think a woman will be better at running the country than a man anyway. Look at how long men have run this country and how they’ve messed it up. I haven’t always voted but when I have it’s been Democrat.
Right now I’m living in a big tent. I’ve got a real bed. My clothes on hangers. All my CDs. I’m here for the longterm. I’m building my own tiny house; I’m just waiting for more wood. I’ve never built a house before, I’m learning from watching others. I’ve got a criminal background for drug possession that keeps me from renting. But I’ve never tried to rent. I’ve lived with girlfriends and family members. I came here to be alone.’
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Lori Perry, 39, Seattle: ‘I don't think about politics much. My priorities are spending time with my husband, getting away from the camp, my kids and grandkids. Mostly what goes through my head is flashbacks.
I looked the candidates up on Google once. I can’t really do news. What's happening in front of me right now, today, is what matters. But it's still important to me to cast my vote because if I don't vote, I've got no right to bitch.
I want to vote for Bernie Sanders, so I’m going to write his name in. If I had to choose between Trump and Clinton, I’d choose Trump because I’m not sure about a woman having that much control yet. I respect Trump because he's built everything from nothing. But I don’t think he’s the right guy for the job. It’s all kind of confusing in my head.
I moved my husband and myself here in July. He has Parkinson’s and this is where he gets treated. We came from Alaska where we could get housing but we were in drugs real bad. We were doing marijuana and meth. We can’t afford rent here but if we return, I know he’ll go right back to it. He’s angry at me for keeping us homeless. But we’re doing good. We’ve been sober since July. I still drink once in a while. We got a room on Monday and I got six beers.’
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Cierra Discher, 30, Seattle: ‘I’m voting for Trump. A woman in charge is probably not what we need. But I don’t know anything about it. I’ve got bigger fish to fry. It really doesn’t affect my immediate life. I mean if somebody else was president would I still be sitting here? Probably. But I hear it’s better to vote for the wrong person than not at all. And I’m registered.
Last night was my first night on the streets. I slept behind a building. This will be my first night at Tent City 3 – they’ve just given me a tent. I was staying at my boyfriend’s but I found out he was Mexican drug mafia. I left while he was at work and went to a hotel for two days.
I used meth yesterday so I’m pretty emotional. I’m about to go into treatment. I’ve waited two months for that and hopefully it will get me on my feet.
My ballot will go to my mom’s house. We don’t talk but I go to hers on the 10th of every month and she leaves me my mail.’
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Leashia McDaniels, 24, Portland: ‘I’m not registered to vote. Politics has always seemed kind of boring to me. I don’t feel like it has an affect on my life. None of my friends vote. My mom’s side was more Republican but I don’t think she votes anymore. I don’t know anything about my dad’s side. From what I’ve heard of Donald Trump, he’s an ass. I don’t know too much about Hillary Clinton.
I became homeless three years ago. I got kicked out of my mom’s house because her boyfriend didn’t approve of the relationship I was in. I started using meth and kept on it for almost two years.
I’ve been at Hazelnut Grove since March. Being here has kept me clean. A lot of people have helped and supported me. If I was somewhere else I’d be back where I was a year ago.
I’m usually pretty much a loner; I’ve never been much of a people person. But I’m learning to get along with people better now.’
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Joseph ‘Tequila’ Gordon, 36, Portland: ‘Climate change is my number one issue. This earth is our home but home’s going to die. And we’re stuck on what? Bathrooms?
Bernie Sanders was addressing the issues I was concerned with. He kept Hillary on her toes and changed her focus. I don’t see her as a leader though. I don’t have anyone to vote for but I’m still sending in the ballot. I always vote. My mother’s white and my father was black. She always told us society is going to treat us black. She’d say, “The way your people have been treated? You’re going to vote.”
If there’s a protest, I’m there. I used to protest by myself in Cincinnati, where I’m from. My first protest was in sixth grade to stop the drilling in Antarctica. I’d watched something on PBS about it. I tried to join the International Socialist Organization when they started a chapter there. But it was pretty bouji. They’d complain about the problems, then go to a coffee shop to buy a $7 latte, walking past a homeless person on the way out.
I love Portland. The people are awesome. But there’s not enough housing for the population. And the housing policies are causing a lot of houselessness. Like no-cause evictions [where a landlord can terminate a contract for no reason with 30 days notice] and the applications fee you have to pay every time you apply to rent somewhere. Some landlords keep a place vacant to take in lots of fees.’
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Cody Bowen, 24, Seattle: ‘Hillary’s seen how people who are homeless are living. She’s helped non-profits that work with people in our situation. Trump’s attitude is more like, “If you don’t have money, you’re not worth anything.”
I was 16 when I first became homeless. It was because of my life choices, being homosexual. I come from a Southern Baptist family, where my father is a preacher and a chaplain in the Army. I came home one day and he’d bought me a Greyhound ticket to Arizona, left my stuff on the front porch and changed the locks.’
Isaiah Thomas, 25, Seattle: ‘I’m voting for Hillary primarily to keep Trump out of office. I read that he’s planning on supporting Supreme Court candidates who want to overturn the marriage equality bill, which we’re planning on taking advantage of ourselves pretty soon.
I never really cared much before about politics but as I’ve got older and realized how it affects our lives, I’ve started paying attention. We’ve come a long way in American society and I think we would go back to the Dark Ages with Trump.’