Johanna Argoud… In Her Own Words

Also published on The Huffington Post.

CS:  On July 14, 2011, your partner, Larry Dean Milligan, champion of homeless people, passed.  You seem content despite your loss.

JA:  Yes, you could say that. I feel that his life is such a gift to me. And despite the physical separation from Lar, I don’t have the feeling of being without him, unless I choose to. I can always have that joy of being with Lar, a feeling of being even closer than in our physical life together, if I so choose.

CS:  Can you share something about your life?

JA:  Of course. I am sharing this because Lar and I are part of the oneness that includes the reader and all of humanity.

On April 26, 1932, I was born in Sharpsville, PA. When I was three years old, my parents and I moved to Germany. I had a wonderful childhood in the small town of Stockach. My friends and I  would go into the forest to pick berries. We would make visits to the Catholic Church, roller skate in the streets and toboggan in the snow.

I was brought up Catholic and enjoyed reading the stories of the saints, especially the martyrs.  I admired their courage and that they gave their lives for God. I asked myself whether I would have the courage to give my life for God.

In the Spring of 1953, I married my husband, George Argoud, in San Diego, California. Together, we had five children. I worked so my husband could go to medical school in Switzerland. In one of my jobs, I worked as a secretary for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. After my husband graduated, we came back to the United States where he practiced medicine.

When George and I divorced in 1982, I felt that I had fallen into a deep hole. I just couldn’t get out.  I thought my life was falling apart. My marriage… five kids. I asked, “What is the purpose of life?  Who am I? Where Did I come from?”

I found refuge in meditation. I had a room built in the back of my home to be a meditation place and my meditation group met there. One day my meditation group discussed doing something to help homeless people in San Diego.

I just felt that was for me. So, I put a small ad in the San Diego paper that read, “San Diegans Help the Homeless” with my telephone number.

There was just one call as a result of my ad. The caller said that if I wanted to do anything to help homeless people that I should call Larry Milligan and he gave me Lar’s number.
I called the number, spoke to Lar and agreed to meet him the next day at the local bookstore.  I told Lar that I could only be interested in helping homeless people if we regarded them with the greatest respect because as Jesus said, “What you do the least of them, you do to me.”

Before we parted, Lar said to me, “I’m ready for a relationship.”

I said, “Only a spiritual one.”

He didn’t say anything. It didn’t seem to stop him.

So I began going to the weekly meetings where Lar and homeless people met. I could see that Lar was a leader who asked everyone to participate in the meeting equally. However, he did not put himself on a pedestal — that impressed me.

For over 10 years, Lar and I served food twice a week to homeless people in Balboa Park and also at the Lutheran Church. Later on other people joined us in this effort. Lar conducted hunger strikes and we had peaceful demonstrations to bring attention to the issues of homelessness.

One of our major concerns was the criminalization of the act of sleeping in public because there was not enough room in the shelters for every homeless person in San Diego. As a result of our efforts, the case of Spencer v. City of San Diego was filed in 2004. When the case settled in 2007, homeless people could sleep on public property at night without being subject to fine or arrest.

[In November 2010, the settlement agreement in Spencer v. City of San Diego was modified so that a homeless person can be fined or arrested if a police officer offers his or her an available shelter bed within five miles and he or she chooses to decline the bed.]

Because of our activities to help homeless people, Lar and I had numerous encounters and a wide variety of relationships with individuals and groups at the national and local levels, including City authorities, the police and the press.

On September 8, 2009, Lar was the recipient of a lung transplant. For the next three and a half weeks, Lar was in a coma. While I was grateful that he was alive, I took refuge in finding that space where I could feel at one with him.

When Lar awoke from his coma, he told me that no matter how much he loved me, he hadn’t wanted to come back from that place that was so peaceful and absolutely beyond description.

He said, “I hope you’re not angry with me.”

I told him, “Of course not, no one would want to come back from there.”

About two years after his surgery, Lar became seriously ill with pneumonia. One day he said to me, “I want to be with you in eternity.”

I said, “I will always be with you.”

I experienced an indescribable feeling of communion.

When Lar passed, somehow I had the sense to take refuge in that place where we had been as one in our meditation. And somehow his passing was not real to me because in that space he was one with me.

Now when thoughts come to me about him, I come to a place we enjoyed together. When I read his poetry or I listen to the songs he loved, I never fail to take refuge to be with him in that space.  I marvel and it never ceases to amaze me that I am so much a part of him and he a part of me in that oneness. All the years of meditation had given me that space.

In 2005, Lar wrote Love Poem to Joanna to me. I share part of it with you now.

I’m just right here. In thoughts of life Never to be changed. Thinking of the times we gave Serving each other. No, love can never be rearranged And someday death will sweetly come.

In Celebration of Larry Milligan, Champion for Homeless People

Also published on The Huffington Post

It has been said that “a man is known by the company he keeps.” And Larry Dean Milligan (September 23, 1946 – July 14, 2011) kept excellent company — from his dear friends who are lawyers, business people and advocates, to the homeless men, women and children whom he befriended and championed, to his partner, Johanna Argoud, and their family whom he loved with all his heart.

2011-08-01-Larry.jpg
For over 20 years, Larry worked tirelessly with Johanna and wonderful colleagues in San Diego to help homeless people in many ways, including giving food to satisfy their hunger, fighting for shelter to protect them from the elements and working for public toilets for their personal hygiene and dignity.

Larry made his causes visible by making himself visible. He tabled his opinions on the San Diego Concourse. He wrote articles and lobbied policy makers. But perhaps the most influential thing that Larry did was that he sacrificed his own health through hunger strikes to bring awareness about the plight of homeless people.

He thought that homelessness should not be criminalized. To this end, he fought the imposition of illegal lodging tickets upon homeless people who were sleeping on public sidewalks in the City of San Diego because there was not enough space in the local homeless shelters.

In 2004, largely through Larry’s efforts, the lawsuit, Spencer v. San Diego, was filed to protect homeless people from illegal lodging tickets. Larry was victorious when this lawsuit was settled in 2006 and homeless people were allowed to sleep outside on public areas in the City of San Diego from 9pm to 5:30 am without being ticketed by the police.

He felt that the November 2010 modification to this settlement was unfortunate because under this modified settlement the police are allowed to ticket a homeless person who is sleeping outside in the City of San Diego if there is an available shelter bed; if the police offer the homeless person the bed; and if the homeless person refuses the bed.

Larry took great pains to avoid confronting people. He used temperance, kindness and truth to bring about peaceful change. He was a true humanitarian.

And now a few words from some of the members of the excellent company that Larry kept.

• Judge Robert C. Coates, retired Superior Court judge, author of A Street Is Not A Home, remembers Larry for his positive influence on unhoused people and among housed people: “He was very constructive and respectful. The homeless community desperately needs people who are articulate and Larry was articulate.”

• Liza Elliott writes, “Johanna and Larry ran a weekly feeding program for the homeless in Balboa Park. I worked with them there as well as at the TACO Feeding program at the Lutheran Church. We did sit-ins at City Hall, served pizza, beans and rice to the homeless and had lots of fun.”

“Larry and Johanna were tireless advocates for the homeless, and it was my pleasure and honor to have served with them. The World will miss Larry. And so will I.”

• Scott Dreher, Esq., Dreher Law Firm, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diego feels “Larry was the last of the true Hippies with all their altruistic, idealistic spirit, and he never lost sight of our society’s potential.”

“Indeed, Larry promised to give up his Hunger Strike only if we agreed to file the Spencer case (which resulted in voiding the City of San Diego’s policy of issuing “sleeping tickets” to homeless people in violation of the state and US Constitutions). His organizing skills were invaluable in convincing the court and city to resolve it in favor of homeless people! He was a vigorous advisor and a loving voice for the homeless to the end.”

“He called me a couple weeks ago, and his voice was filled with enthusiasm, energy and readiness as he put forth more ideas on trying to fix the social imbalance that allows people in our country to lack basics such as food, a place to sleep, and shoes.”

“I joked with him and told him we’d carry on as long as he promised not to go on another hunger strike.”

“He said ‘OK, I’m taking you at your word!”

“I loved him and miss him.”

• Timothy D. Cohelan, Esq., Cohelan Khoury & Singer, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diegoshares, “Larry was a great spirit whom I first met in the mid 90’s when we were handling a case against the city of San Diego for failure to designate or site emergency shelters and transitional housing (Hoffmaster vs City of San Diego) — he kept me and others informed of the conditions as he saw them on the street.”

“At one point he went on a hunger strike and some believe this contributed to his later health problems.”

“Larry acted like a cheerleader on the Spencer case, always calling Scott [Dreher] or me to say how he appreciated our efforts, and how the homeless with whom he always talked, felt like someone cared. He will be missed.”

• Steve Binder, Esq., San Diego Deputy Public Defender says, “Larry had the unique capability to bridge the discussion between the police and people on the streets and to help people realize that citations alone are a simple solution to a complex problem that continues to frustrate police and the people who receive the citations, alike.”

“Larry had the ability to look past the shortcomings and problems that the police presented to the people on the streets and to look past the shortcomings and problems that the people on the streets presented to the police so that he could improve everyone’s situation.”

“Larry was a builder. He built community.”

• Dr. Ellen Beck, M.D. supervisor of The UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project at TACO (The Third Ave Coalition Organization) adds, “Larry was a remarkable person, a truly passionate change agent, who lived what he believed and helped to change laws and policy. He will be missed!”

• Jim Lovell, Executive Director, Third Avenue Charitable Organization, Inc. (TACO) notes, “Larry was an amazing force brought to bear on San Diego. His faith seemed to be what drew him to need to call those in power to act to treat all who live in their city with the same dignity that those who were wealthy and who had power were treated.”

“When Larry fasted in order to get the city to open the winter shelter early, he was quick to point out that it was a “fast, not a hunger strike.”

“When Larry would come to see me, I quickly learned that I should hold on tight because things would move very fast, and we may go to see a council member or we could be at the mayor’s desk with signatures to record turning in or we may be in the office of the Chief of Police.”

“Larry often verbally argued and pushed those in power, though he was always so quick to forgive and call them again and ask to meet. That was one of the most amazing parts of Larry. I will miss him deeply.”

Not only will Larry be remembered for the excellent company he kept, but by the passion and devotion he exhibited as an outstanding leader, as an effective advocate for homeless people and as a genuine human being.

A week before his passing, Larry told Johanna’s daughter, Ninon, about his personal philosophy. He said, “The most important thing to remember is that we are all equal.”

Homeless People Need ID

Also published on The Huffington Post 

Homeless people need identification documentation for the same reasons that housed people need ID: to prove who they are, to become eligible for services and for their own self-esteem.

However, for homeless people, having personal IDs is truly a matter of survival. All government assistance programs require identification documentation as the follow examples show.

    • Without ID, homeless people cannot get food stamps, so they may not have money to buy food.
    • Nor can they get general relief (welfare) to pay for lodging, for example, without proving who they are.
    • Senior homeless people need ID to get Social Security benefits.
    • Homeless people with physical or mental disabilities which prevent them from working can only rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they have ID.
  • If homeless people have worked 5 years out of the last 10 and are unable to work because of a disability, they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with ID.

My previous article, “The Trifecta of Identification,” set forth the numerous steps that it takes anyone to get ID. For a person without a home or resources, each step can be a major hurdle to getting identification.
But how do homeless people feel about having or not having ID? I asked a number of homeless youth and adults this question. I am grateful to each person for his/her response.

Lily, 27 years old:
“I have no ID of any kind because my stuff was stolen. I had my California ID stolen downtown. Without ID, it’s kinda hard. I couldn’t get a hotel room last night because I had no ID. Someone else did it. But, I was bummed. It wasn’t good. I’d like to get an ID, but I don’t have the money.”

T.J., 19 years old: “ID is pretty important. You need it for most things.

“I have all my IDs — birth certificate, social security card and photo ID. I feel better having ID because I don’t get a ticket for not having ID. I can buy cigarettes and get a hotel room.”

Wayne M. F. Robbins, Jr., 21 years old: “Personally, I think ID is a separation of who I am. Most people don’t ask, ‘Who are you?’ They ask for your ID.”

“I feel like a slave. My parents gave me that name, but if my ID is not current or if it’s broken, you can get in trouble, or fined. My ID is crinkled at the corners, so I have to buy another one. How much is an ID? $35?”

“IDs and social security cards aggravate me. I don’t feel that I should be tied down to 9 digits…”

Erin Kuklis, 22 years old: “I have no ID. I think ID is a waste of time and they have too much info on them. I’m from Alaska. I came here in August. ”

“One of my military cards, driver’s license and social security card — my whole purse with all my IDs is gone. My ID was stolen. My bank account was wiped out. There are three other people pretending to me. Those people have my parents’ address so they know where my parents live. There’s way too much info on IDs.”

“I can’t get a California ID because I have nothing showing who I am. When they [DMV] look me up, they don’t believe it’s me…”
Over the past six and a half months, our Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) helped the following homeless individuals complete the steps necessary to obtain ID. I thank each of them for their comments.
Logan, 49 years old: “No ID means you’re not even ‘Mr. Nobody.’ You can’t get work. You can’t cash your check. The police don’t like the idea [that you have no ID]. You have to eat out of the dumpsters. You have to beg for food.”

“A closed mouth don’t get fed. I asked the manager, ‘If I pick up all the trash in the parking lot, can you throw me something to eat?’ A few times they say, ‘No,’ but at some point they say, ‘Yes.'”

“Now [that I have ID,] I feel excellent … I have options now. I couldn’t get my medication without ID.”

“Having ID makes me feel really good. If I work, I can cash a check. If I get stopped by the cops, it’s valid information.”

John, 59 years old: “Before I had ID, I couldn’t do anything. After I got ID, I could do things … go to stores, all that.”

Nameless, 48 years old: “[Before CJSC got my birth certificate and replaced my social security card and Medi-Cal card,] I only had my California photo ID. I wasn’t worried about ID then. I didn’t really think about it until I went to a doctor’s appointment and they needed more ID.”

“Now that I’ve got all of my ID, I’m worried about hanging on to it. Hopefully, I can hang on to it. That’s my biggest concern. I’m worried I could lose my ID.”

Homelessness Myth #18: The Police Will Solve It

Also published on The Huffington Post

Homelessness is first and foremost a social service issue. In other words, homelessness can be and will be resolved through the work of compassionate individuals and social service agencies, be they nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Nevertheless, the myth exists that homelessness is primarily a police issue.

If homelessness is truly a social service issue, why is police activity often seen as the ultimate solution to ending homelessness?

First, some housed people fear homeless people. The concept of “NIMBYism,” not in my backyard, is the totality of the negative thoughts and fears of some housed people who think that their safety depends upon homeless people, as well as social service programs serving homeless people, not existing in their neighborhoods, their “backyards.” These housed people often look to their municipal policymakers, legislative bodies and the police to “solve” homelessness by preventing or removing homeless people and homelessness programs from existing in their neighborhoods.

Second, often in response to the real or perceived feelings of housed people, some municipal policymakers and legislative bodies have focused on homelessness as an issue to be removed from within their borders, rather than as a city issue to be solved. These municipal lawmakers may pass ordinances that appear to remove the problem of homelessness within their city as a political tool for garnishing votes in the next election from their fearful constituents.

City ordinances do not cost money to draft and pass because the municipal legislative bodies are already in place and being paid to pass ordinances. So passing ordinances relating to homelessness per se, costs no additional funding.

Third, when a city focuses on passing municipal ordinances for removing homelessness from within the city, its police department becomes charged with enforcing these ordinances. Police departments already exist and, hence, no additional funds are needed to create an enforcement body.

There is no doubt that there are many fine members of police forces across the United States who diligently enforce the laws and simultaneously compassionately help homeless people. In addition, in a number of municipalities, there are police teams specifically dedicated to addressing homelessness. Sometimes these police teams have a working relationship with social service agencies and may refer homeless people to them for needed services. However, while the police can help homeless residents, the police cannot be expected solve all of the issues of homelessness.

What can we as individuals do to help end homelessness? We can do a lot:

• We can volunteer for and support local social service agencies who are helping to end homelessness.

• There still may be time this January to volunteer and support the HUD-required Point In Time Count (PITC) of homeless people which has been mandated nationwide bi-annually at the end of January since 2005. HUD uses the statistics gathered as a basis for distributing millions of dollars of federal funds to social service agencies.

• We can be kind and compassionate to everyone regardless of economic standing.

I asked several social service providers to share their views on this myth. I am grateful to them for their comments that follow.

“There are a lot of times when the police get the rap… My experience is that the police are much more of a friend to us [Alpha Project] and homeless people. But, the police are complaint-driven…

“All the best officers are sympathetic to homeless peoples’ situations. Anytime the HOT Team [San Diego Police Homeless Outreach Team] brings in a homeless person, we put them in the shelter… The HOT Team is our biggest advocate. There is no place to take anyone without the Winter Shelter being open.”

— Bob McElroy, President, Alpha Project. The San Diego Winter Shelter Program is run by Alpha Project.

“Social services — whether publicly or privately funded — are all dedicated to improving social conditions- – that’s why they’re called social services. It’s part of the community that has solving social problems as its core mission, its bottom line. Social service agencies are core in providing the relationships people need to be successful. 

“Yes, to solve homelessness, let’s make everyone count. Let’s support the experts – the social service agencies – in the powerful work of building relationships with each person who is without a home.”

– Patricia Leslie, M.S.W., Director, Social Work, Point Loma Nazarene University

“The police can be invaluable partners in our shared effort to alleviate homelessness. However, they cannot be expected to arrest or simply relocate people who are homeless. Many jurisdictions restrict the reach of the law enforcement when it comes to where people sleep or reside during the day… 

“However, what is clear is that Homelessness is not a Police Issue, it is a ‘Community Issue’. As a community, we can solve homelessness. The solution begins with empathy, compassion, and understanding. This is often difficult, but necessary in order to create the groundswell of action needed to create solutions. From this, we need to commit to affordable housing, employment options, health care, and ongoing supports in order to enable people to achieve their potential. Whose issue is it? Ours.

– Peter Callstrom, Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Task Force

“I, of course, sincerely believe that homelessness and problems that accompany it must be addressed by society at large and the social service agencies that have the knowledge and skills to help the homeless population. Government (cities and counties) and the service providers should be working together to help homeless individuals and families acquire housing, health care, both physical and mental health, education and the employment skills they need to become contributing members of our society.

“The police do have an important piece in this process, but it should be ‘compassionate policing’ such as the Homeless Outreach Teams that are trained to work with the chronic homeless population…

“All of us must take some responsibility to help solve [the homelessness] problem. So many talented and caring people are trying hard to end homelessness. We all need to do our part.”

– Hannah Cohen, Policy Consultant on Issues of Housing and Homelessness, President of the Cohen Group

“It’s such a myth to me, that when I heard that, I almost brushed it off my shoulder…because the political involvement [in homelessness] does not make the issue go away, it only moves it around. You can sweep [homelessness] under the rug, then you shake the rug and people on the other side of the street get upset. 

“Whatever we do to get rid of ‘the problem’ [homelessness], we affect all those communities around us. It does not go away; it only grows.”

– Tim Sandiford, Head Trustee, Point Loma United Methodist Church, Commissioner of Ministries and Missions, Member and Point Person for Public Facilities, OB Forum

 

Homelessness Myth #16: Helping Infantilizes Homeless People

Also published on The Huffington Post

The myth that helping a homeless person makes him/her dependent, in other words, “infantilizes” him/her, is sometimes used as a rationale not to help a person in need. I believe the concepts that are being confused in this myth are the concepts of “helping” another person versus “rescuing” another person. It is important to understand the practical implications of these concepts so we can expose this myth for what it is — an excuse not to help a homeless person.

When we help another person, housed or unhoused, we are, in a word, “helpful.” Our actions that assist another person in need to realize his/her own plans for his/her life are helpful actions.

Rescuing another person is something very different from helping him/her. When we try to rescue someone, we attempt to take over a part of his/her life often substituting our own goals and ambitions for his/her own. The person we are rescuing appears to lose a part of himself/herself because we have stepped in and taken over.

Helping equals assisting; rescuing equals control. A person in need can be assisted. A baby is almost entirely within our control.

I believe that we can all agree that no rational, mature adult wants to be controlled, in whole or in part. We bristle at the mere thought of being “infantilized.” We each have had our own turn as a baby. Now, as adults, we have the opportunity to learn, grow and achieve our individual goals and desires.

But being a housed adult does not mean that each of us doesn’t need help from time to time. Truly, each of us probably needs more help than we might like to acknowledge. For example, most of us need help with letters of reference to get into college. We sometimes need “to know someone” to get a job. And most prospective buyers seek mortgages from banks to acquire their homes.

A person without a home needs help, too. Let’s face it: there is a homeless person in almost every city and rural community in the United States. Further, there are not enough beds in emergency shelters, transitional housing projects or permanent supportive housing programs to shelter every homeless person. So, the majority of homeless people are unsheltered. These are facts.

Now, what do we do?

Of course, we housed people can do nothing to help a homeless person.  Inaction doesn’t cost us anything — or so we think.

We now know through multiple studies that it costs the housed population more money for a person to be homeless rather than for that person to be housed with supportive services. We also know that arresting and jailing a homeless person for existing without shelter costs more than providing that person with shelter and supportive services.

Thus, having a person remain homeless is not cost-effective. So, we, the housed population, save money by housing a homeless individual.

Besides the financial costs, there are also hidden costs for the housed population when we don’t help people in need because we don’t exercise our human qualities of care and compassion. Through actions of compassion, we expand positive human qualities. Indeed, many religions and spiritual paths admonish their followers to “help one another.” Science has also proven that when we help one another, our immune system is positively affected. By helping others, we help ourselves.

When a person is homeless, he/she often suffers negative consequences from being unhoused. These consequences can be physical, emotional, psychological and even spiritual. Therefore, a homeless person may need help on many different levels.

How can we help? An easy and quick first step to help is to serve a homeless person nutritious food. Hunger is rampant among low-income people in the United States and most prevalent among our unhoused population. Once a person’s hunger is met, his/her entire perspective may change for the better.

Step two is to provide public toilets, showers and laundries. Everyone needs to be clean to work. Ask any employer of a fast food restaurant.

Together, these two steps will have an immediate impact of decreasing the number of people who are homeless. An able-bodied and able-minded unhoused person will be fortified and clean. He/she will be employable. Once gainfully employed, he/she can afford housing.

Step three is providing shelter for each person who is homeless. Right now we housed people are involved in creating housing for unhoused people often in the form of emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing.

We could also provide housing to homeless people by converting abandoned military bases into self-sufficient villages where homeless people will be welcomed. Working together, nonprofit organizations could help the government create these villages. The nonprofits could also train the residents to run their own village with light industry and organic farming.

Helping homeless people is good for all of us.

Homelessness Myth #7: “Oh, No! A Transient!”

Also published on The Huffington Post

“Transient” is the new “N” word.  Although commonly used, the word, “transient,” is often used to disparage homeless people, much as the “N” word was used in the past to disparage African-American people.

By formal definition, the word, “transient,” comes from the Latin, transire – to go over, to go.  Dictionary.com gives definitions for this term as an adjective as in “passing with time; transitory” and as a noun, “one that is transient, especially a hotel guest or boarder who stays only for a brief time.”

Some housed people use the term “transient” to ridicule homeless people.  They use that term to mean a person who is an untouchable, an undesirable, often a lazy, possibly a bad person who is not a member of their community, but only staying in their community to utilize the available services and then the homeless person will be on their way.

However, the majority of homeless people in a certain place may not have come from somewhere else, nor do they intend to go anywhere else — so they can hardly be called, “transients” under any definition.  For example, the 2005 City of Los Angeles count of homeless people found that 78 percent of the homeless people living in LA were housed in LA when they became homeless.  They didn’t go to LA from anywhere else to become homeless in LA, nor did they leave LA upon becoming losing their housing.  Housed or unhoused, these people live in LA, they are Angelinos!

Where people live is their residence. The concept of residency is an easy one to discuss when people are housed because there are formal rules that apply to them.  For example, for tax purposes, we can only have one primary residence. Of course, we can have “second homes” or more, such as summer or vacation homes.  Wherever our second home is, we retain our legal residency at the location of our primary residence.

Establishing residency for homeless people is less obvious because homeless people, by definition, have no houses with a street addresses.

I believe a compelling argument can be made that unsheltered homeless people reside where they live, that is, on the streets.  Support for this argument may be found in voter registration materials.  Each of the 50 states set forth the voting registration requirements for federal elections and elections in their states.

For example, the California Secretary of State, Debra Bowen’s website (www.sos.ca.gov/eletions/election_faq.htm) sets forth a list of voting registration prerequisites. In order to register to vote in the State of California, a person must:

• Be a citizen of the United States;
• Be a resident of California;
• Be at least 18 years of age as of the day of the next election;
• Not be in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony; and
• Not be deemed by an appropriate court to be mentally incompetent.

This website further raises and answers the question of how long a person must live in California in order to be a “resident:”

Q: I have just moved.  Am I required to re-register?
A: Your voter registration should always reflect your current residence.  However, if you have moved from your home into a temporary residence that you do not intend to use as your permanent residence, you can continue to use your prior permanent residence where you were previously registered to vote as your address for the purpose of voting.

Thus, a person becomes a resident of the State of California for purposes of voting by living there and intending to be a permanent resident.

But without a formal house address, how can an unsheltered homeless person identify where they are residing?

The California Voter Registration Form, line 6 provides the answer, “If you do not have a street address, describe where you live (Cross streets, Route, N, S, E, W).”

In other words, unsheltered homeless people become immediate residents of the State of California by living in the State and intending to permanently reside there. Their “residence,” their address, for voting purposes, is the street intersection or route nearest to where they live.

Of course, in order to receive voting materials, homeless people need to supply a mailing address (CA Voter Registration Form, lines 7 – 8), which can be any address or  P.O. Box where they can receive mail.  Homeless people often receive mail, including voting materials, through the cooperation of local social service agencies who let them receive mail at their address.

A further thought… My homeless friend, Maurice, informed me that the City of Santa Monica, CA, has a transient occupancy tax (TOT).  I was curious about his comment, so I researched the topic.  I found that the State of California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 7280 permits legislative bodies of cities and counties in California to convey a transient occupancy tax (TOT) based on the total amount paid for the rental of a hotel/motel rooms on any person who is not exempt.

In Santa Monica, the TOT is a 14 percent tax on the total amount paid for the rental of a hotel/motel room in the City.  Government employees on official business as well as person occupying the room for 31 or more consecutive days are exempt from this tax.

A question comes to mind:  if there is a “transient” occupancy tax upon persons, unless exempt, who rent hotel/motel rooms, does this, by definition, make these people,  “transients?”

Answer:  Visitors to Santa Monica, as well as elsewhere, might take offense if they knew that they were considered “transients” in the negative use of that word.

So, in the State of California, we really have only two kinds of people – residents and tourists.

It’s time to stop using the word, “transient,” to refer to homeless people.  How should we refer to people without homes?  Just that way… we can say, “people without homes, “homeless people,” “unhoused people” or any other descriptive language that is emotionally neutral, bias-free and respectful.